The Decadent Aubrey Beardsley

I have been in love with Art Nouveau ever since I can remember.  Literally.  I was a child of the ’70’s when my parents owned a soft furnishings shop which was filled with Art Nouveau inspired mirrors, prints and wall hangings.  The period was undergoing a bit of a revival at the time as you may have guessed, and I was fascinated with the beautiful flowing lines and exotic representations of femininity – as well as a certain dark quality that pervaded much of the artwork.

Art Nouveau [1890-1914] was a movement which stemmed from the frustration of avant-garde artists and writers in Victorian times, who began to criticise and satirise the Victorian value system and social order around them.  Much of the work that came out of the period was sexual in nature and centered around hedonism,  pessimism and all things artificial.  They were constantly in search of the “new”.  Many of the artists of the time led very decadent lifestyles [for then] with drug use and homosexuality abounding.

Which brings me to my artist of the day, the wondrous Aubrey Beardsley.

Aubrey Beardsley was a stand-out artist amongst his peers.  He worked in ink and his mostly erotic drawings are distinctive in the way that there are areas of fine detail, surrounded by large white spaces.  It is both sparse and intricate; quite original and highly unusual for its time.   He also had a fondness for blurring gender lines.

One of Beardsley’s first major works was the illustration of Oscar Wilde’s play, Salome [1891].   Salome is a  story based on Biblical characters centering around sex, vice and corruption.  It’s very bloodthirsty, and basically everything that constitutes a damn fine yarn,  hah.

And here I have a few examples of Beardsley’s illustrations from Salome.  I’ve posted them in a general order of events and having not read the play in its entirety, I am only aware of a basic synopsis, but this post is really about the incredible drawings, so I think it matters not.

The Stomach Dance

My favourite Beardsley of all.  It is constantly amazing to me that not just this one in particular, but all these pieces were drawn in 1894.  Those Decadents really had it in for the Victorians

Here, Salome is dancing the Dance Of The Seven Veils, designed to whip her father Herod into an incestuous frenzy, so he will give her the head of John The Baptist on a platter.

The Eyes Of Herod

I’ve always liked the afro on the little guy, not to mention that rather incredible candelabra.

Herod Ordered Salome The Head Of John The Baptist

A large part of the premise of Salome is that Salome orders Herod [her father] to give her the head of John the Baptist on a platter after she becomes crazily obssessed with Johnny when he won’t give her a kiss.  Herod is coerced into the beheading and upon receving his head, Salome picks it up and kisses it as if it were alive.  NICE.

The Dancer’s Reward

Then, being so horrified as to what he’s just seen and as a reward for being a complete nutter, Herod then chops off Salome’s head as well.

Of course there is more to it, but for all intents and purposes, that is the story we are talking about here.

You know, looking at these pictures it has just occurred to me that Aubrey Beardsley could have designed a rather spectacular set of Tarot cards, had he been so inclined.  I’m kind of surprised he didn’t, all things considered…

I think it goes without saying there is far more wonderful Beardsley artwork to behold, and I may well feature him again in a future posting.

More illustrations from Salome here.

Salome: A Tragedy in One Act. [full text version]


~ by at her discretion on August 1, 2008.

5 Responses to “The Decadent Aubrey Beardsley”

  1. I love the sparsity and cleanliness of his style. It’s very uncluttered, devoid of gaudy flourishes or brush smudges or anything like that. It seems a very straightforward and elegant style of visual communication.

    It’s ironic that the subject matter is almost the opposite… very elaborate psycho-sexual abstract images. He’s obviously a thinking-man’s artist and I can see why the rapier-witted and iconoclastic Wilde would appreciate his work. It seems a perfect contrast to the conservative Victorian environment.

    Every time you post, I learn more. Please keep it up… this blog is a fascinating blend of art and photography with commentary. I love it.

  2. Oh, yes… he and Wilde were part of the same set. Good ol’ buddies. Such a fascinating period.

    Thank you so much for your kind words. :)

  3. So happy to see you are blogging here again. I always love your subject matter and look forward to more. xx

  4. Aw, thanks darlin’. It’s good to be back. :)

  5. I have three prints that i am sure are Beardsley… I have never seen them illustrated anywhere. They are pornographic, but i Understand that he associated with at least one Victorian pornographer. I would very much like to verify these works from experts, if i were to copy them to this site, would that be acceptable ?

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