Lines and Colors art blog

Aubrey Beardsley
For an artist intimately fascinated with line, Aubrey Beardsley walked many of them himself. He walked a line between sickness and health, suffering from tuberculosis as a child and facing repeated bouts of ill-health before succumbing to it at the age of 25.

His ink drawings, illustrations and prints walked the line between drawing, design and decoration, going beyond even Mucha in this respect.

He balanced large areas of solid black and areas of open white with areas of intricate detail. His large shapes were often delineated with graceful sweeping curves; and the design of the elements and decoration of the surface were often more important than the illustrative qualities. He was obviously influenced by the decorative and design characteristics of the Chinese and Japanese prints that were becoming popular in Europe at the time.

Beardsley walked a line between fame and notoriety. His work was both admired and reviled. His images broke the rules of perspective and proportion; and his subject matter, often of a darkly fantastic and overtly sexual nature, broke the rules of propriety.

There is also some question about Beardsley crossing lines of sexuality and morality. On one hand he is supposed to have been part of the largely homosexual circle of Oscar Wilde and others associated with English Aestheticism, on the other hand he is rumored to have had an incestuous relationship with his older sister. His work and actions stirred up controversy both during and after his lifetime.

Beardsley drew from an early age but did not pursue art as a career at first. He was working at an insurance company in London and drawing in his off hours when he showed his work to Edward Burne-Jones, a Pre-Raphaelite artist who was a major influence on his style, who reportedly told him: “I seldom or never advise anyone to take up art as a profession, but in your case I can do nothing else.”

Beardsley went on to do illustrations for books and plays as well as posters and prints. He is famous/infamous for his darkly erotic (many would say perverse) illustrations of mythological and historical themes.

His work has been very influential on other artists, notably the poster art of the 1890’s, the late Art Nouveau artists, the Symbolists, illustrators like Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen; and the psychedelic poster and underground comics artists of the 1960’s.

Whatever we make of the lines Beardsley crossed as a person or as an artist, the lines he left on paper still have the power to shock and enthrall.


8 responses to “Aubrey Beardsley”

  1. Charley,
    Thank you for this most intriguing account. A pen & ink artist myself, I was perusing your various entries in this category. I could not help but be struck by this entry on Beardsley.

    I knew little about the artist before reading your account – although I recognized his Peacock Skirt, which is fittingly featured on the latest edition of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

    While he and I may share an aesthetic sensibility, I was SHOCKED to discover that he toiled in the insurance industry. I am in the same circumstance! And I hope for not much longer..

    Enjoyed your post! Best, Cheyne

  2. Cheyne,

    Thanks for your comments. I hope you change your circumstances soon as well.

  3. im doing a school project where i have to find artists and crafts people, if its possible could you send me some more information about your work and influences. thank you

  4. Ashleigh Mathieson Avatar
    Ashleigh Mathieson

    what u’ve wrote sounds really good.
    am looking at Beardsley works for my sixth year advanced higher art and design studies. would u beable to send me some more infomation on beardsley please if u dont mind. thanks

  5. it’s amazing! i love it!

  6. My Mom came across a what looks to be an original of Beardleys Peacock skirt. Did he only make one? Is it being exhibited? What was its original size? and would the ink (over time) have aged on the paper thus making the woman’s (on the top right) eyes appear closed? Please advise.

  7. Amber Avatar

    I think this information is really handy but i have no choice but toresearch about him and looking at his pictures…man…he is addicted to gender…revealing gender xd

  8. Amber Avatar

    And im in year 7.