Sunday, 18 October 2009

Aubrey Beardsley

I was born in Brighton, in 1872. My father was a ne'er-do-well, descended from London jewellers, and my mother was a governess. I was diagnosed with tuberculosis at seven, famous at 20 and dead at 25. I had very little formal art training: I attended Bristol Grammar School as a boarder for four years, and then became a clerk at a London insurance company, where I did not remain long.

Oscar Wilde described me as having "a face like silver hatchet and grass green hair." Oscar exaggerated: my hair was not green, but I was certainly a weird-looking fellow.

Both my sister Mabel and I were considered by our parents to be artistically and musically gifted. Mabel later became an actress.

I admired the Pre-Rapaelites and met Burne-Jones, who took me under his wing, arranging for me to attend night classes at the Westminister School of Art -- the only formal training I ever received.

Although a member of the homosexual clique that included Oscar Wilde and the English aesthetes, I was basically heterosexual, though my only female partner had been my adored elder sister Mabel, with whom I had an ongoing incestuous relationship that had started in our childhood. Rumours that she miscarried or aborted my child, were fuelled by the drawings of diminutive foetus-like monsters which started to appear in my work by 1892.

My first commission was to illustrate J. M. Dent's edition of Malory's Morte d'Arthur.

The next year Wilde's scandalous play Salome was published in its original French version, and I was commissioned to illustrate it. This assignment was the beginning of celebrity but also of an uneasy, and at times unpleasant, friendship with Wilde, which officially ended when Wilde was tried and convicted of sodomy.

My fame was established for all time when the first volume of The Yellow Book appeared in April 1894. This famous quarterly of art and literature, for which I served as art editor, brought my work to a larger public. It was the venomous elegance of my startling black-and-white drawings, title-pages, and covers which made the journal an overnight sensation.

Although well received by much of the public, The Yellow Book was attacked by critics as an outlet for the "indecent" work of Wilde and his aesthete cronies. In April 1895, following Wilde's arrest, I was dismissed from my post, even though Wilde had in fact never contributed to the magazine. Soon afterwards, however, I was appointed art editor of The Savoy, a magazine similar to the Yellow Book. I continued to illustrate books . Among these were editions of Pope's The Rape of the Lock, Ben Jonson's Volpone, and The Lysistrata of Aristophanes.

I became renowned for my dark and perverse images and grotesque erotica. My most famous erotic illustrations were on themes of history and mythology, including my illustrations for Lysistrata and Salomé.

During the last four months of my life I was ravaged by chills and haemhorrages, but continued to work feverishly on my drawings for Volpone, even when I was finally bedridden. In November 1897 I went to Menton in the south of France on my doctor's advice, and four months later I died there.

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