Aubrey Beardsley: A Biography


Now in paperback, the acclaimed definitive modern biography of one of the founding figures of modern art


When Aubrey Beardsley died in 1898, he was aged only 25. This informative biography traces how in his short but crowded career he became one of the defining figures of the fin-de-siècle—a precocious draughtsman who redefined the limits of black-and-white art. His erotic, decadent illustrations for Oscar Wilde's Salome set the tone for his style: by turns ...

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Now in paperback, the acclaimed definitive modern biography of one of the founding figures of modern art


When Aubrey Beardsley died in 1898, he was aged only 25. This informative biography traces how in his short but crowded career he became one of the defining figures of the fin-de-siècle—a precocious draughtsman who redefined the limits of black-and-white art. His erotic, decadent illustrations for Oscar Wilde's Salome set the tone for his style: by turns shocking, facetious and cruel. Beloved by Burne-Jones, cursed by William Morris, he was the intimate of Wilde, the rival of Whistler, and the friend of Beerbohm, Sickert, Ada Leverson, and William Rothenstein. This book fully covers these relationships as well as the cultural conditions that shaped him as an artist, and explores how his deliberate manipulation of press and public, and his awareness of both art and the marketplace, made him one of the first truly modern artists.

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Editorial Reviews

John C. Arens
The narrative tenor of Sturgis' biography is perfectly suited to Beardsley's work; the baroque detail of the book is as prominent as the pointillistic technique of Beardsley's pen and ink. -- ForeWord Magazine
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this informative life of Beardsley, the great turn-of-the-century illustrator, limner of impossibly elongated, imperious femmes fatales and fey androgynes, Sturgis captures both his precocious subject's rise to infamy and the cultural changes that made it possible. Like Oscar Wilde, Beardsley was a leading member of the Decadent movement in England during the 1890s. Together they shocked the press and the establishment by cultivating the pose of dandies, coolly removed from prevailing social mores, and took aim at the dominant figures of the late 19th-century art world: moralizing critic John Ruskin and the sentimental pre-Raphaelite painters. That Beardsley met an early death at the age of 25 after a lifelong battle with tuberculosis was especially ironic, as the cult of the doomed youth was central to the Decadent movement. Throughout, Sturgis is in full command of the cultural conditions that led to Beardsley's emergence as an enfant terrible, such as the newly available illustrated picture press that made the artist's deliberately shocking drawings easily available to the masses and turned him into a media-art star avant la lettre. Sturgis never resorts to flimsy psychological conjecture (although his circumspection may in part be due to Beardsley's own efforts to fashion an elaborate mask for public consumption), and the biographer's prose is unexpectedly affecting when the end comes for his subject, as Beardsley rushes from spa to sanitarium, searching for a cure, frantically taking up and abandoning projects all the while. Arriving as it does in the midst of our own surface-obsessed fin de siecle, Sturgis's solid biography is not only a faithful record of Beardsley and of his world but also a useful study of the birth pangs of modernity. 26 b&w photographs and Beardsley's line drawings throughout. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In his brief life, Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) made himself into his finest creation. Diagnosed with tuberculosis at 16, Beardsley knew his time was limited; though he had almost no formal training, pen and ink became his medium. His first commission was for J.M. Dent & Co.: 20 illustrations and 500 decorations for a new edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. The art world was taken by his sensual illustrations, with lush curves that that seemed at once Japanese and Art Nouveau. Beardsley's incredible output as a book illustrator, poet, writer, and master of poster design covered just six years. Witty and willfully perverse, he was popular with both the Aesthetic Movement and the Pre-Raphaelites, including Oscar Wilde, Edward Burne-Jones, Max Beerbohm, and most of the artistic luminaries of the "Purple Nineties." Sturgis, a freelance writer and art critic, has uncovered new material and used many previously untapped sources to capture Beardsley in the first full-length biography in 20 years. Highly recommended.--Joseph C. Hewgley, Nashville P.L.
Draws on new material to examine the life and work of illustrator Beardsley (1872-98), who redefined line drawing and set an important tone for fin de siecle Britain with his journal The Yellow Book and illustrations for Oscar Wilde's Salome. Finds that his most impressive creation was his own public image, through careful manipulation of the press and art community. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Glyn Vincent
...[A] solid portrait of the ambitious, incandescent Beardsley, a talented designer who cultivated his personality almost as much as he did his art....On the whole, society has adopted a more tolerant and pantheistic view of art. For that reason alone...we owe some thanks to Beardsley's style, wit and determination. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A portrait of the artist as a young decadent. Though tuberculosis killed Beardsley at the age of 25 in 1898, by then he had already attained success as an eye-catching illustrator and celebrity as the definitive graphic artist of decadence. As Sturgis (Passionate Attitudes: The English Decadence of the 1890s) shows, Beardsley's accomplishments resulted from an intense dedication to his work and the sedulous cultivation of a doomed dandy's (ultimately well-justified) pose. For all his affectations, his family was thoroughly middle-class, though his mother had an unconventional streak. Before he began studying drawing, their straitened finances forced him to take a position in London as a clerk. Although Beardsley served an apprenticeship with the Pre-Raphaelites, particularly Edward Burne-Jones (William Morris thought he had talent only for drapery), Sturgis also notes Whistler's influence, not only through his japonisme and the "Ten O'Clock Lecture," but also through his extravagant dandyism and instinct for public relations. Beardsley became famous for his erotic and cruel illustrations for Oscar Wilde's "Salome," yet despite his independent achievement as art editor of the Yellow Book, his fate was linked with Wilde's scandalous downfall. Although he withstood the Victorian backlash and being fired from the Yellow Book, his death from tuberculosis-the era's epitomizing disease-in truth capped his career. The notable company Beardsley kept yields numerous interesting anecdotes and bon mots from Wilde, Whistler, Frank Harris, Max Beerbohm, and W.B. Yeats, though Sturgis always qualifies, and sometimes must correct, their unreliable testimonies. With occasionallyarch prose, the author places Beardsley as a significant presence in a larger group. The only drawback to Sturgis' biographical approach is his failure to examine the importance of sexual obsession and satire to Beardsley's artistic persona.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781843680741
  • Publisher: Pallas Athene (UK)
  • Publication date: 7/1/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 404
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Sturgis is the author of Paperwork: Peter Clark and Walter Sickert: A Life. He writes for Independent on Sunday, Harpers & Queen, Sunday Telegraph, and Times Literary Supplement.

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