by Mathew Sturgis
A spell of incessant
and feverish creativity and inventiveness in the field of
design and aesthetics characterised the best twenty years
of the 19th Century, both in England and Europe.
Styles and ideas
were shifting rapidly due to the industrial revolution, to
commerce and to the imports of goods from the Far East, Japan
in particular. Arts and crafts societies, handicraft guilds,
art centres and exhibitions sprung up all over England.
It was during
these excessive and turbulent times, 1872, that Aubrey Beardsley
was born. A delicate and frail child, likened by his mother
to a "Little piece of Dresden China." He had a very brief
life, dying in 1898 at the age of 26, "at the age of a flower"
as Oscar Wilde had remarked.
For the 100th
anniversary of his death, Mathew Sturgis has produced a new
and very detailed biography of Beardsley's life, relating
the artist's modest and somewhat shabby childhood in Brighton
and London, his close relationship with his sister Mabel,
his painfully boring first job in a London insurance office,
his discovery by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burn-Jones,
his overnight success and fame as a co-editor and illustrator
of the quarterly magazine the Yellow Book, his various friendships
with prominent figures such as Max Beerbohm and Oscar Wilde
and his fall from grace at the wake of the Wilde scandal.
Despite his failing
health, or maybe because of it (Beardsley suffered from tuberculosis)
- he lived and worked intensely. Very influenced by sensual
French literature and by Wagner's Operas with their themes
of incest and lust, he created a body of erotic work of great
individuality which was regarded as indecent by most of his
Stark in its simplicity,
(his chosen medium was pen and ink), his style owes much to
Japanese art. It is a great pity that so little of his work
is included in this book as it would give clues to the mind
of this wilfully perverse dandy and poseur. And although the
decadence of the 19th Century's "fin de si¿cle" with its excesses,
diseases and fast shifting ideas can find a parallel with
the 20th Century's own turbulent malaise, Beardsley's work,
which saw a great revival in the 1970's seems to be curiously
out of place today.
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