Rare Books

Aubrey Beardsley - A Tribute

Influence of Japanese Prints

Beardsley's illustrations for Wilde's Salome, published by Elkin Mathews and John Lane the following year, reveal how quickly he moved on to another crucial influence - Japanese prints.

The craze for all things Japanese had been an integral part of Aestheticism in the 1880s and was to be an important part of the 'new art' of the 1890s. Although the principles of Japanese art were not deeply understood in the 1890s, a knowledge of Japanese prints (and Beardsley had his own collection), in the words of the artist and chronicler of the period William Rothenstein:

led us away from form. We thought flat pictures more 'artistic' than solidly painted ones.
(William Rothenstein, Men and Memories, Faber and Faber 1921, vol 1, p.69)

They learnt not just the virtues of flatness for the illustrator. Beardsley also understood from Japanese prints that there were other ways of organising the page - asking the viewer to read it vertically, for instance, or controlling a design with a strong border and new ways of decoratively arranging the layout of a page.

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