The Dandy Man

10/16/2008

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Most famous for his highly ornamental and erotic illustrations, Aubrey Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era and my favorite illustrator of all time.

With contemporaries and collaborators that included Oscar Wilde and poet Ernest Dowson, Beardsley visually personified the Aesthetic movement in London that gave us the English dandy and the idea of “art for art’s sake.”

Heavily influenced by Japanese Shunga (those erotic Japanese illustrations of bizarre sexual positions and fetishes) some of his more explicit drawings even featured enormous genitalia. His most infamous pieces are the ones commissioned by Oscar Wilde for his play, Salomé.

Beardsley’s talent extended beyond illustration; he was also an art editor for Yellow Book magazine, The Savoy, and The Studio. A true eccentric, Beardsley was known for being meticulous about his attire: dove-grey suits, hats, ties, and yellow gloves. He was said to appear at his publisher’s in a morning coat (tails) and patent leather pumps.

In the years leading up to his death, Aubrey Beardsley converted to Catholicism and begged his publisher to destroy all of his obscene drawings. Thankfully his publisher ignored him, yet sadly he encouraged thousands of reproductions and forgeries of Beardsley’s work. Beardsley died at age 25 of tuberculosis but in his short life managed to accomplish something I bet no other fin-de-siécle artist did – a shout-out in a the ultimate seventies Rod Stewart song.

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