Aubrey Beardsley's Remarkable Oeuvre Gets a Tate Survey

January 8, 2020

The end of the 19th century is often described with the popular French term fin de siècle. This period was marked by the increasing shifts in societies across Europe indicating the most rapid process of industrialization. The people were at the same time dazzled with the new dawn marked by technology, and nostalgic of the past, and both of these sentiments perfectly explored in the arts.

The cultural space in the United Kingdom was infused with the optimism projected by The Arts and Crafts movement, while on the other side there was decadence expressed through pessimism, the indulgence of forbidden pleasures, the occult and bizarre. Undoubtedly, the most iconic representative of such an aesthetic was Aubrey Beardsley.

Despite the fact this prolific artist passed away at the age of twenty-five, he created an unprecedented body of work that inspired the Goth subculture of the 1980s. After five decades, the visitors will have a unique chance to get closer to Beardsley’s highly sophisticated, yet melancholic Imaginarium with the upcoming retrospective at Tate Britain.

Left Frederick Evans - Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley Right Aubrey Beardsley - How la Beale Isoud
Left: Frederick Evans - Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley 1893. Photo-etching and platinum print on paper, 115 x 165 mm. Wilson Centre for Photography / Right: Aubrey Beardsley - How la Beale Isoud Wrote to Sir Tristram c.1893. Ink on paper, 276 x 215 mm. Alessandra and Simon Wilson

The Fantasy Lord

Upon the first look at his works, it is clear why Aubrey Beardsley was one of the enfants terribles of the London art scene at the turn of the century. The magnificent illustrations he produced for Oscar Wilde’s controversial play "Salomé" instantly made him adorned by the socialites, who were amazed at the way Beardsley combined perversion, myths and a bizarre sense of humor in grotesque compositions full of erotic tension.

The artist produced numerous illustrations for books, posters, and periodicals during his short-lived career. A photomechanical process called "line block printing" helped him to easily mass-produce and broadly circulate his creation, conquering both disgust and admiration along the way.

Left Aubrey Beardsley - The Slippers of Cinderella Right Aubrey Beardsley - The Peacock Skirt
Left: Aubrey Beardsley - The Slippers of Cinderella, 1894. Ink and watercolour on paper. Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press / Right: Aubrey Beardsley - Illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salome 1893, The Peacock Skirt. Line block print on paper. Stephen Calloway, Photo: © Tate

The Installment

The exhibition will encompass all the relevant commissions that Aubrey Beardsley received as an illustrator, spanning from Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur from 1893-4, the mentioned Salomé from (1893) and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock made in 1896.

On display will be daring graphic works made within the literary quarterly The Yellow Book that was edited and issued by the artist, alongside the ones from The Savoy and illustrations for Volpone (1898) and Lysistrata (1896).

Beardsley was enchanted with diverse cultural influences including ancient Greek vases, Japanese woodblock prints, French literature, and the Rococo, and was responsive of the practices of his contemporaries such as Edward Burne-Jones, Gustave Moreau, and Henri Toulouse Lautrec, whose works will also be on display at the exhibition for a better understanding of Beardsley’s individualistic signature style.

One specific room will feature portraits of the artist and his wider circle so that his presence can be underlined despite his decreasing health and early death. The striking number of self-portraits will illustrate how much this eccentric was obsessed with his persona.

The whole installment will be additionally rounded with a selection of Beardsley’s bold poster designs, his only oil painting, 1923 motion picture Salome starring Alla Nazimova, as well as other works from Art Nouveau to the present day (including Portrait of Marie Derval by Pablo Picasso from 1901 and Klaus Voormann’s iconic artwork for the cover of Revolver (1966) by the Beatles) that were largely inspired by the artist’s legacy.

Left Aubrey Beardsley - The Black Cape Right Aubrey Beardsley - The Climax
Left: Aubrey Beardsley - Illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salome 1893, The Black Cape. Line block print on paper. Stephen Calloway, Photo: © Tate / Right: Aubrey Beardsley - Illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salome 1893, The Climax. Line block print on paper. Stephen Calloway, Photo: © Tate

Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain

Under the curation by Caroline Corbeau-Parsons and Alice Insley, the upcoming exhibition will emphasize Beardsley’s oeuvre in the context of his deeply introvert persona, perceived from the contemporary perspective as a prime example of the camp aesthetic. It will be accompanied by an exciting catalog from Tate Publishing, as well as a rich discursive program.

Aubrey Beardsley will be on display at Tate Britain in London from 4 March until 20 September 2020.

Featured images: Left: Aubrey Beardsley - The Yellow Book Volume I 1894. Bound volume. Stephen Calloway. Photo: © Tate / Right: Aubrey Beardsley - Volpone Adoring his Treasure, 1898. Ink over graphite on paper, 290 x 204 mm. Courtesy of the Princeton University Library. All images courtesy Tate Britain.

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