Aubrey Beardsley, 1872-1898

Aubrey Beardsley,  The Abbe,  or,  The Abbe Aubrey,  1895  Source:

Aubrey Beardsley, The Abbe, or, The Abbe Aubrey, 1895


By Lily Spencer

Aubrey Beardsley was born in Brighton on the 21st August, 1872 to a tradesman and the daughter of a Surgeon Major in the Indian Army. He was a small and sickly child and he and his sister formed part of a close-knit and highly religious family. Beardsley’s sister, Mabel, was almost exactly a year older than he was and she became his longest and closest friend.


After leaving school he began to work under Edward Burne-Jones who convinced him to become a professional artist; then, in 1892, he went to Paris where he met Henri Toulouse Lautrec and the Parisian fashion for Japanese art, particularly Japanese block prints and Shunga.


His first major breakthrough was his illustration of Thomas Mallory’s Morte D’Arthur. After this his ambitions and talent led him to become one of the most famous, or rather infamous, artists of the period. The 1890s is sometimes referred to as the Beardsley Period, despite his short life and even shorter professional career, and his style has become synonymous with Aestheticism, Decadence and Dandyism. Aestheticism was an intellectual and artistic movement that emphasised the primacy of aesthetic value and beauty over social, political or moral meaning. It propounded the sentiment of ‘art for art’s sake’ and, as a result, helped stimulate art nouveau and the arts and crafts movement.


Other famous and significant works by Beardsley include his beautiful but haunting illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s infamous play Salome and the illustrations for his own novel Under the Hill. Beardsley’s career was short, as he died of tuberculosis in 1898, but it was significant, leaving its mark on the development of art nouveau and poster style.


Callow, Simon. Oscar wilde and his Circle. London: National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2000.

Calloway, Stephen. Aubrey Beardsley. London: V&A Publications, 1998.

"Aubrey Beardsley," Tate Artist Profile, accessed 20th Aug. 2017: