Rare Books

Aubrey Beardsley - A Tribute


Leonard Smithers, the only publisher courageous enough to take Beardsley on in the aftermath of the Wilde scandal, managed several very fine book productions with the artist.

Included here are two of the high points of their artistic collaboration: Dowson's dramatic monologue The Pierrot of the Minute (1897) and of Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock (1896). By studying Beardsley's illustrated output one can see how quickly his style developed and progressed - as Arthur Symons wrote after his death at the age of 26"

He had the fatal speed of those who are to die young.
His course can be charted as moving away from the medievalism that dominated the 19th-century creative imagination towards a flirtation with Renaissance models - especially Mantegna - through a passionate involvement with Japanese art, an interest in contemporary French popular graphic art and finally to a study of the elaborate techniques of 18th-century French engravers - a selection of which are included in this exhibition.

His illustrations to Pope's The Rape of the Lock, often claimed to be his master work, combines an amazing variety of techniques with the most exquisite and elegant drawing.

Indeed, it could be claimed that the book - the basis of this exhibition - was everything to Beardsley. In conclusion we can only endorse Stephen Calloway's words:

Aubrey Beardsley's whole world lay in books, and not merely in the narrow sense that, for all his few and precious years of maturity, his work was dictated by the texts for which he was commissioned to make drawings. His short life was, rather, one entirely measured out in books. From his earliest days he had lived vicariously in the imaginative world of authors. What he knew of life, perhaps all that he would ever come to know of love, and, curiously, much that he had learned about the painting and drawing of the past and absorbed into his own art, all came to him through the printed word and picture on the page.
(S. Calloway, Aubrey Beardsley, V & A publications. 1998 p. 42 )
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