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Aubrey Beardsley

United Kingdom • 1872−1898
Aubrey Beardsley (eng. Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, August 21, 1872, Brighton, UK - March 16, 1898, Menton, France) - British artist, who gained fame for his engravings. Beardsley from childhood suffered from tuberculosis and lived only 25 years. Thanks to his mother, an artist at an early age became fascinated with music and painting, began publishing his first works while he was still at school. Beardsley created illustrations for the collection of knightly tales, The Death of Arthur by Thomas Malory and for Oscar Wilde's Salome.

Features of the artist Aubrey Beardsley: In his early works (for example, in the illustrations for “Death of Arthur”), the artist pays a lot of attention to details. But because of his fascination with Japanese prints, he already depicts heroes in the illustrations for Salome on the practically “bare” background. Later, while working on the first cover of the Savoy magazine, he returns to thorough detailing, conveying hues and half tones using dense shading.

Famous writings of Aubrey Beardsley: "Culmination", The Wagnerites, «Self-portrait», "Savoy (magazine cover)", "Volpone worshiping his wealth".

Aubrey Beardsley was strange. However, what could be expected from a person who knew from an early age that a very short life span was measured for him. However, the fear of death seemed to be completely unknown to him until the last months of his life, when the “bony” came too close. Or perhaps he simply skillfully concealed this fear, compensating for his amazing ability to always be the center of attention. This attention was not always positive, the artist did not always like it. But for some reason always played into his hands. They were interested, admired, hated and condemned. Beardsley invariably responded to any criticism of himself with witty comments and caustic remarks. It seemed that she did not touch him at all (although this is hardly possible when it comes to a young man at the age of twenty and a little). An uncompromising young man of impressive height with a long face and an eccentric hairdo, wherever he appeared, immediately acquired either friends or detractors. It seems that Beardsley simply could not be treated neutral. And he used it in a surprisingly natural way.

Family secrets

In the history of the Birdsley family there were enough scandalous details and skeletons in the cabinets. It’s probably worth starting with his grandmother Susan. She was born in Dhaka (Bangladesh), and in her birth certificate in the box with the mother's name was a dash. Father Alexander Lamb was indicated. In the English colonies in the XIX century, such documents were not uncommon. Most often the mothers of illegitimate children were native maids.

Susan Lamb and her spouse William Pitt had three daughters, but Helen was the most conspicuous and most beautiful among them. She was very popular with men, and she herself easily made acquaintances with the young people she liked. She adored spectacular and even extravagant antics. Once in the church, she pretended to be deaf and dumb to get a prestigious place in the first row. It all ended with the fact that Helen began to secretly meet with a certain Vincent Beardsley.

Difficulties in the family life of Vincent and Helen began literally on the day of the wedding. The newlyweds and their guests could not enter the church through the main entrance because of the gale, they had to be content with the modest door of the sacristy. Some could see this as an unkind sign, but the marriage did take place. The scandal struck immediately after the end of the honeymoon. Vincent was sued by a widow who accused him of having promised to marry her. In order not to bring the case to court, Vincent had to buy off a woman by selling some of his property. Hope for a bright future in a respected family crumbled to dust. Disgraced Vincent was forced to live with his wife in the house of her parents and lost their trust forever.

Wunderkind reluctantly

Helen Beardsley could well become a benchmark for modern mothers who are confident that the child must first be “developed”. When the small family settled in London, Helen, deprived of the usual comfortable existence, was forced to live with her husband and children in rented apartments and give music lessons. She quickly became disillusioned with family life and began devoting every free minute to children, deciding through them to realize all her unfulfilled dreams and unfulfilled ambitions. Aubrey and his sister Mabel studied music and drawing from a very young age and read completely non-fiction literature. Hence the legend (carefully supported by Helen) that Aubrey was a gifted child.

Most of the time, Mabel and Aubrey were on their own. They almost did not communicate with their peers and very early stopped behaving childishly. Mabel for the rest of his life remained for Aubrey the closest person, they lived most of their lives together.

The happiest time in childhood and adolescence Aubrey began his studies at Brighton High School. The boy quickly made friends and won some authority in school, despite his extravagant appearance and considerable conceit. Then he began to develop his artistic talent and became interested in theater. The boy participated in most school plays, playing leading roles. As for drawing, it was then that a close intertwining of painting, literature and theater appeared in his works. He skillfully painted the fields of books, paying particular attention to small details (which is not surprising, considering that one of his grandfathers was a surgeon, and the second was a jeweler).

Beardsley's printed debut as an artist was the publication in 1887 of a series of pictures called "Analysis of the anniversary cricket match"in the magazine "Past and Present." In the same year, by the way, his literary work was first published - a joking poem “Two to One”. School Aubrey graduated from in triumph. Shortly before graduation, he played in the school play “Flute Player from Gammeln” and drew all the illustrations. for the performance program.


In 1895, Aubrey Beardsley was already a very famous person both in London and far beyond. Over his shoulders was the design of the collection of knightly tales "The Death of Arthur" by Thomas Malory1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Despite the cool reaction of critics, it is the edition with the elegant and detailed illustrations of Beardsley popular in Britain until now. The peak of his work was the illustrations to Oscar Wilde's “Salome” (1, 2, 3, 4).

The artist was bathed in the rays of glory and could only enjoy life. But then thunder struck.

This spring, Oscar Wilde went to prison for two years on charges of homosexuality. Because of this scandalous process, many have suffered, and those who really had love affairs with the writer, and those who simply had the misfortune to be friends with him. Beardsley also recently became famous for his illustrations of Salome. Even close friends began to see in this connection with Wilde's sexual predilections. And then the case decided foolish case. Going to the conclusion, the writer took with him the novel by Pierre Louis in the yellow cover. In the press, it was called simply the "yellow book."

Ironically, Aubrey Beardsley was the art editor at Yellow Book magazine at the time. Many of his works immediately began to notice "indecent" subtext, and, in the end, the artist was fired. Beardsley was very upset, in particular, due to the fact that this dismissal indirectly confirmed the non-existent connection between him and Wilde.

During this period, the support of the artist served as a new friend - the poet and journalist Andre Raffalovich. He, by the way, will help Beardsley (including financially) until the end of his days. The artist, meanwhile, focuses on his own literary work "The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser", which later was called "Under the Hill", and in parallel creates illustrations for him (1, 2, 3). At the same time, he met the publisher Leonard Smithers, who not only provided Birdsley with a job (in particular, in the magazine Savoy (1, 2), but also became his close friend.


Aubrey Beardsley has known that he has been seriously ill since he was seven years old. Then the boy started having coughing fits. It was enough for the doctor to hear the noises in Aubrey's lungs in order to diagnose him with tuberculosis.

The artist knew that his illness would not allow him to live a long and happy life, but for a long time he did not seem to take it seriously. Until the bleeding began, which seriously frightened him. The exacerbation of the disease most often occurred in winter and significantly darkened Beardsley and his family holidays.

Beardsley health deteriorated every year. But he continued to work: he created several fairly frank illustrations of Lysistrata (1, 2, 3, 4) and one of the most powerful (in his opinion) works - drawing "Volpone worshiping his wealth". But the artist was forced to limit the time of work, because she only worsened his health.

The last months of life Beardsley spent in the south of France. He fought literally for every day of his life. A year before the end, when it became clear that there was no prosperous outcome, the artist adopted Catholicism. And before his death, he asked Leonard Smithers to destroy all his "indecent" drawings, including the illustrations for Lysistrata. Smithers deceived him, assuring that he did his will. On March 6, 1898, Beardsley began to bleed heavily, destroying all hopes of a possible recovery. The artist lived another 10 days. He died in the early morning of March 16 at the age of 25.

Author: Evgenia Sidelnikova
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