The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, 1872-1898

Nationality: English
Date of Birth: 1872.08.21
Place of Birth: Brighton
Date of Death: 1898.03.16
Place of Death: Menton


Aubrey Vincent Beardsley was a designer, illustrator and writer. Brought up in Brighton in straightened circumstances, he nevertheless received an intensive musical and literary education. However by the age of seven he had already contracted tuberculosis.


In January 1889 Beardsley became a clerk at the Guardian Life and Fire Insurance Company in the City of London but haemorrhaging in his lungs meant that he had to leave his job at the end of his first year. In July 1891 he showed his work to Edward Burne-Jones who, impressed by his talent, advised him to become an artist. In the spring of 1892 he began a series of drawings influenced by JW and Japanese woodcuts. In late 1892 he was given a large commission by the publisher J. M. Dent to illustrate Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D'Arthur, which enabled him to leave his job. His art became widely known through The Studio, the first issue of which (April 1893) had a cover designed by Beardsley and an article about him by Joseph Pennell which was accompanied by eight illustrations.

JW met Beardsley in the summer of 1893 and attended the Vernissage in Paris in his company. At this time Beardsley was sketching in the rose arbours of the Luxembourg gardens, the subject of a number of JW's recent lithographs. JW's first impression of Beardsley was unfavorable. He declared to Joseph Pennell, 'Look at him! - he's just like his drawings - he's all hairs and peacock plumes'. Certainly Beardsley's sexual and social provocativeness at this time brought him much censure.

JW was aware that Beardsley had made a caricature of him, and he disliked the Yellow Book (1894) and the illustrations to Salome (1894), probably because of the connection with Oscar Wilde. However, JW's feelings changed when he met him a few years later in Buckingham Street in London. Beardsley’s style had developed, reflecting his new enthusiasm for the French Rococoists. JW found himself admiring Beardsley's new illustrations to The Rape of the Lock, and declared, 'Aubrey, I have made a very great mistake - you are a very great artist', reducing Beardsley to tears. JW came to hold in great esteem both the man and his work.

In the Christmas of 1896 JW visited Beardsley at Boscombe and was distressed to see how ill he was. Beardsley, whose work was of great importance for the development of international symbolism and art nouveau, was among those invited to show their works at the first exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in May 1898, a society which had made JW its President in 1898. However, Beardsley died of tuberculosis before the show opened.


Beardsley, A., Under the Hill (London, 1904); A. Beardsley, The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser, London, 1907.

Pennell, J., ‘A New Illustrator: Aubrey Beardsley’, The Studio, vol. 1, April 1893, pp. 14–19; Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908; Gallatin, A. E., Aubrey Beardsley: Catalogue of Drawings and Bibliography, New York, 1945; Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Reade, B., Beardsley, London, 1967; Weintraub, S., Beardsley: A Biography, London, 1967; Maas, H., T. L. Duncan and W. G. Good (eds.), The Letters of Aubrey Beardsley, London, 1971; Brophy, B., Beardsley and his World, London, 1976; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980; Benkovitz, M., Aubrey Beardsley: An Account of his Life, London, 1981; Fletcher, I., Aubrey Beardsley, Boston, 1988; Langenfeld, R. (ed.), Reconsidering Aubrey Beardsley, 1989; L. G. Zatlin, Aubrey Beardsley and Victorian Sexual Politics, Oxford, 1990; Simon Wilson, 'Aubrey Beardsley', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 19 July 2002).