Rare Books

Aubrey Beardsley - A Tribute

Publishing Trends in the 1890s

Beardsley's contributions to The Yellow Book up until his removal as art editor by publisher Lane in 1895 at the height of the Wilde trials (on the grounds that his association with Wilde via his Salome illustrations was detrimental to the publication) were outstanding. The art quality of The Yellow Book declined after Beardsley's removal - but his work for The Savoy, published by Leonard Smithers as a direct rival to The Yellow Book, provided an even more elegant vehicle for his drawings, combining a unique mix of pathos, irony and humour. Again, it is Beardsley's contribution above all that makes The Savoy memorable.

Publishing itself caught a new mood in the 1890s. While aesthetes remained indifferent to middle-class values, new art was aimed at a wider public. The Studio was to establish a completely new relationship with its readers, offering them competitions and prizes as well as commentary on exhibitions in the provinces, in Europe and even Australia. Many of these readers were practitioners, both professional and amateur; others were collectors. Most now saw themselves as operating within a European rather than a simply British context. At the same time exclusivity became a marketable commodity in publishing.

The Yellow Book, masterminded by publisher John Lane, sold itself as an exclusive production but this was not quite the case in reality. The first volume had a print run of 7000 copies; the second, 5000 copies. As well as being available by subscription it was sold on W. H. Smith news stands catering for the railway crowds and it was Smith's moral objections to a series of illustrated articles on William Blake that sounded the commercial death knell for The Savoy when it was banned for his outlets. Both Lane and Leonard Smithers saw themselves as catering to the taste of collectors with special, limited and de luxe editions - which again were not all they seemed. Lane, for instance, gave the mass-produced Yellow Book a luxury appearance using beautiful printing and untrimmed edges, although his increasing use of halftone reproductions for art works in the wake of Beardsley's removal distinctly lowered the visual appeal of the periodical.

Collectors were attracted by beautiful productions: Samuel Bing's publication Japon Artistique (1881-91) appeared in a London edition in English and Octave Uzanne's Japonisme periodicals (1881-94) encouraged this refined taste, further aiding the suggestion that the periodical itself could be a work of art.

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