Aubrey Beardsley

A scandalous figure in his own short lifetime, Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain will showcase the full breadth and depth of the artist's genius. Peter Gray reports.

Often salacious, frequently scandalous and always shocking, Aubrey Beardsley is a name that has struck fear into the hearts of puritanical art lovers for over a century.

Now, over a century after his death, the Victorian master is the subject of a massive new exhibition at Tate Britain. Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain will showcase over 200 of the artist’s best works, drawn from a career that was tragically cut short at only 25.

The exhibition will include several of the commissions for which Beardsley made his name. These include the artist’s celebrated illustrations for Le Morte d’Arthur, Lysistrata and Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. To complement Beardsley’s work on Wilde’s famous play, Charles Bryant and Alla Nazimova’s 1923 film Salomé will be screened to highlight the role that Beardsley’s artworks played in the choice of the film’s costumes.

In another first, five of Beardsley’s pieces for Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock will be shown together for the first time.

The Tate exhibition will conclude by exploring Beardsley’s influence on the artists who came after him. From Picasso‘s Portrait of Marie Derval 1901 to Klaus Voormann’s legendary cover to the Beatles’ Revolver album, the show will trace the controversial artist’s legacy.

Beardsley was known primarily for his singular black and white drawings. With a wide range of influences ranging from Japanese wood block drawings to the elegant pieces of the Art Noveau movement, the artist synthesised everything but his style was still unmistakeably his own.

Eroticism was a powerful influence on his work too, however the inclusion of such elements in his pictures brought him into continual disrepute with the establishment of the day. Not that Beardsley seemed to mind. The artist was only too keenly aware of his reputation, and he went to great lengths to maintain it.

The new Tate show will seek to showcase some of the artist’s influences, with paintings by the likes of Edward Burne-Jones, Gustav Moreau and Toulouse Lautrec.

Another section of the exhibition will focus on putting the artist in context, with portraits of Beardsley and members of his wider circle.  

Tragically, Beardsley’s life proved to be a short one. The artist had suffered from recurrent bouts of tuberculosis throughout his life, becoming so ill at times that he was often unable to work or even leave his bed.

In 1897, Beardsley moved to the French Riviera after contracting the disease again. This time there was no escape. The artist would suffer a lung haemorrhage, and a year later, in March 1898, Beardsley passed away. He was 25.

Aubrey Beardsley is at Tate Britain from the 27th of July until the 20th of September 2020. For more information, please click here.

For information on other great art events in London, please click here.

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-London's Best Events-
What: new exhibition
When: 27 July - 20 Sept 2020
Where: Tate Britain