Aubrey Beardsley will forever be known for his erotic and haunting illustrations such as Lysistrata and Salomé, as well as the contributions he made to The Yellow Book. The young artist would leave his mark on the art world before his life was snuffed away by tuberculosis at the young age of twenty-five.
Aubrey Beardsley was born on August 21, 1872, in Brighton, England, to Vincent and Ellen Beardsley. Although both parents came from upper middle class families, they remained destitute most of their married life due to some bad business dealings. Having lost his inherited fortune, Vincent was forced to take residence at Ellen’s family home until their move to London where he found work in a brewery. His wife gave piano lessons to the neighborhood children for extra money. During this time, Aubrey was stricken with tuberculosis at the tender age of nine. A frail and sickly child from the start, his mother often referred to him as a ‘little piece of Dresden china’. He recovered from the disease but it would plague him for the rest of his life.
In 1884, Vincent lost his job and Ellen fell ill so Aubrey and his sister Mabel were sent to live with a great-aunt in Brighton. They attended Brighton Grammar School where Aubrey‘s first artistic attempt was rewarded when some of his sketches were published in the school magazine. In 1889, when his prose piece The Story of a Confession Album was published in Tit Bits, he decided to concentrate all his efforts on a career in art. A chance meeting with Sir Edward Burne-Jones influenced the young artist to attend night classes at the Westminster School of Art.
In 1893, Aubrey Beardsley got his first commission, which was to provide artwork for J. M. Dent's edition of Mallory’s Morte Darthur. During this time, an alliance with Victorian dramatist Oscar Wilde was formed, and Aubrey was commissioned to illustrate the English edition of Oscar Wilde’s scandalous play, Salomé. Although this was a prosperous alliance in its beginnings, his association with Wilde would have a negative impact on his career later on when the dramatist was convicted of sodomy in 1895.
Beardsley's reputation had begun to soar when he got the opportunity to act as art editor for the first volume of The Yellow Book in April 1984. The artist’s startling black-and-white drawings, title-pages and covers contributed to the journal’s overnight success. While the public loved it, The Yellow Book was deemed by critics to be indecent and so, Beardsley’s contributions to it were short lived and soon terminated all together.
Leonard Smithers, a publisher of pornography and erotica, had been a fan of Beardsley’s work and wasted no time in commissioning the artist to provide the art and literature for his upcoming publication called The Savoy. Under the Hill and The Ballad of a Barber were Beardsley’s contributions to the publication before it was terminated in December 1896. However, Beardsley continued to work for Smithers on other projects. Among these were editions of Pope's The Rape of the Lock, Ben Jonson's Volpone, and The Lysistrata of Aristophanes.
During a time of declining health, Aubrey Beardsley put out a collection of his work entitled A Book of Fifty Drawings. On March 16, 1898, tuberculosis would return to claim his life.