Rare Books

Aubrey Beardsley - A Tribute

The Influence of French Culture

They (the Decadents) stood apart from their contemporaries in their passion for France. Arthur Symons was a frequent visitor to Paris throughout the '90s; Ernest Dowson and Charles Conder lived in Paris and Brittany and Normandy respectively for most of the decade. Beardsley spent more and more time there in the latter part of his life as did Oscar Wilde, seeking illusory sanctuary in Dieppe and then Paris on his release from Reading Gaol.

They enjoyed French popular culture, particularly the cafes and cabarets of Montmartre and wrote admiringly of major theatrical stars such as Réjane and Yvette Guilbert. The French writer they most admired was Paul Verlaine who died in 1896 - 'Mandoline' from his Fêtes Gâlantes, translated by Symons and illustrated by Conder, was published in the first volume of The Savoy.

They esteemed the Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarmé, who was translated and interpreted in The Savoy and succumbed to the contemporary passion for the Ancien Régime, which was fuelled by the writings of the de Goncourt brothers and by the 1890s revival of interest in Watteau - one of the strongest visual references for Beardsley and Conder.

What brought them together was a shared interest in forms of production which combined more than one of the arts, a central tendency in Art Nouveau. This thinking lay behind The Yellow Book which first appeared in April 1894, edited by short story writer Henry Harland with Aubrey Beardsley as art editor.

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