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Out & About: Aubrey Beardsley Virtual Exhibition


Though the doors of London’s galleries and museums remain closed, we can still appreciate art from our own homes. Tate Britain has recently launched an online journey around its Aubrey Beardsley exhibition until 25th May.

Aubrey Beardsley has always been one of my favourite artists. When I was young I used to spend hours trying to recreate his bold black pen and ink drawings. I was fascinated by his line drawings, with their intriguing mythology and scandalous nature. He was one of the most prominent artists in the 1890s, so much so that they were called the ‘Beardsley Years’.

His work is full of humour and interest, but based on knowledge and talent: he wrote poems, drawings and cartoons; he worked in an architect’s office and studied at the Westminster School of Art.

Beardsley was born in Brighton. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis when he was 7 years old and sadly died so young at 25, internationally famous.

>It was only after his first major commission: illustrating the book ‘Le Morte D’arthur’ by Thomas Malory in 1893, that he was able to dedicate himself to his drawings. Here you can see how he was influenced by Japanese prints.

Beardsley is known for his prints, but his drawings are so beautiful; the quality of line, the way he distorts features, how he plays with scale. The more you look, the more strange details you discover.

Beardsley cultivated an image of effortlessness. He was meticulous about his attire, wearing dove-grey suits, hats, ties and yellow gloves.

To the Victorians, he was a shocking and controversial illustrator. He depicted London nightlife, independent women and often explicit scenes, his illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s play, ‘Salome’, are prime examples of this.

He was the art editor of a new art and literature magazine, ‘The Yellow Book’. The colour yellow automatically had associations with audacity, being the colour of French erotic novel wrapping. Oscar Wilde was arrested for having same sex relationships, whilst carrying a yellow French novel. To the public, this was enough to confirm the connection between the two men. It was this association that caused him tough times. From this time onwards, Beardsley had no reliable source of income, but this did not stop him creating. He sold his house in Pimlico and moved to the French Riviera. It is amazing how influential he was in such a short period. He was one of a kind.

It is so interesting to see how artists in the following generations have been inspired by him. Picasso was transfixed by his style and talent.

I was influenced by my admiration for Beardsley’s work when I was drawn to Mila Furstova’s large print I purchased at the RA Summer Exhibition, now displayed in Ham Yard Hotel.

Beardsley’s work is timeless. The way he contrasts light and dark, and fine detail with empty space is striking and distinctive. His artworks still talk to me now more than ever.

CLICK HERE to view Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain online.

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