Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Aubrey Beardsley, the Aesthetic Movement and Gay Sensibility

As a kid, I used a series of about 20 large posters of Aubrey Beardsley’s pen and inks as a frieze above the curtain rail, right around my four walls of my bedroom. Much to the ill-concealed consternation of my parents, as these works were obviously the product of a raging gay sensibility. And helped me explore my sexuality at that critical and tumultuous period of my mid-teens.

I was drawn to the work of Aesthetic Movement of the late C19 in general, and in this context, particularly that of Beardsley and Oscar Wilde, and their 'collaboration' in Wilde’s 1893 French ‘Salome’:

Other images in my ‘gallery’ included the elegant, sparkling, frothy and dramatic ‘Peacock Cape’ and
‘Black Cape’ 1907.

And the spookily domestic ‘Lady Reading’ with its rigid and alarming couch covering, and its rather self-contained parrot quietly mocking it's owner's plumes.

Beardsley's output, of course, was quite varied.

There are also the society portraits. Such as the beautifully restrained image of ‘Miss Winifred Emery’ 1895, capturing so effectively her diaphanous cape and light muslin dress …

… and the satirical one of Wilde himself in the guise of Ali Baba, the hoarder of all sumptuous and desirable treasure:

To frighten the horses (aka my parents), I put up the effete ‘La Toilette’ and these other more erotic works:

Sadly, I didn't display these more homoerotic images, though I was aware of them at that time:

Maybe they weren’t available in poster form then. A possible defense! The second pen and ink includes another portrait of Wilde, pedestaled.

It was only much later I found these much more exotic images - of masturbation, of S and M (‘Earl Lavender’), and of general quirky sensuality at play (‘Lysistrata Defending Acropolid’):

But finally to end on a more dignified note, Beardsley's tooled leather beautiful book cover for ‘La Morte d’Artur’:

Sadly this rather unique artist died in his twenties. It's hard to imagine what direction his work would have taken with the demise of the Aesthetic Movement, the imprisonment of Wilde and the de-gaying of the arts that followed. Hope he would have found a way!


  1. I love the work of Aubrey Beardsley! It's been years since I've seen some of these images. Thank you very much for sharing.

  2. davidbeale_uk@yahoo.co.ukJuly 23, 2007 at 12:35 AM

    Aubery Beardsley lived for a very short time in Bournemouth in the south of englnad. the very anti-gay counsil haterd gays so much that when they knew he had lived they they bought he place and let it fall ito repair, eventually the sight was cleared and a very faux "art decko" plaque put up.

    (how do i know? I lived there.)

    in Brighton is the church he used to visit which was very beautiful

    also D.H.Laurence lived in a now disused car park there)