Aubrey Beardsley – the Man, the Myth, the Legacy

The British illustrator Aubrey Beardsley inspired and elevated the dandy look by his own persona. Beardsley was a unique man who lived the life of a rock star before such a concept even existed.

Aubrey Beardsley was often sick as child, but found refuge in literature of all sorts, mainly medical anthologies and their drawings. He early became fascinated with grotesque imagery which would later be incorporated in his own work. As an adult, his classy wardrobe was toned down in true dandy spirit, as he dressed with awareness, though without being ostentatious. It was the beginning of marking the group you belonged to, or wanted to belong, through style. In 1893 the illustrator created an alliance with author Oscar Wilde, illustrating the author’s debated play Salome. The following year, Beardsley found an individual fame with the publication of The Yellow Book. Serving as art editor to the publication, he brought his illustrations to a larger public: the journal was an overnight sensation. Beardsley’s interest in drawing macabre images didn’t, however, leave him out of the fashion world. He had a lot of knowledge of the fashion of his time and found the female attire to be ludicrous. The women in his illustrations always wore far more comfortable dresses. One of his most famous works is that of the peacock skirt, all in black and white, of course.

Aubrey Beardsley was, for most of his short life, the “party central”, but by his mid-twenties he could fall asleep in a sentence. At the age of 25 he died of tuberculosis. His editor had promised to burn most of Beardsley’s work after his death, upon the artist’s own request. However, realizing their importance of his endeavor, the editor broke his promise. During the second half of the 1960s, the Victoria & Albert Museum showcased his illustrations, perfect for the trends of that era. His erotic influences were liked by many musical artists, such as the Beatles, inspiring their album cover of Revolver. Aubrey Beardsley is a testament to the power style can have to make a mark on the world, be it through a pen or through the threads one wears.

Victoria Edman