Aubrey Beardsley, who died aged 25, was the most controversial artist of the Art Noveau era

 
 
 
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Art Noveau, an international style of art, architecture, applied art, and decorative arts, was most popular between the decades of 1890 and 1910.

The style was a reaction to the academic art of the 19th century, and it was inspired by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers.

Aubrey Beardsley, c. 1895.
Aubrey Beardsley, c. 1895.

Many people enjoy the works of the most popular Art Noveau artists like Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt, and Antoni Gaudi, while some highly influential artists practically drifted into obscurity. One of them was Aubrey Beardsley, who was considered the most controversial artist of the Art Noveau style.

The Dancers Reward, Salomé: a tragedy in one act.
The Dancers Reward, Salomé: a tragedy in one act.

Beardsley was born in 1872 and started developing his signature style in 1892 when he discovered the poster art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. From then until 1898, when he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25, he had an extremely prolific career during which he created outstanding and often eccentric artworks.

Beardsley’s artworks were often black-and-white illustrations of his own poems, which aggressively criticized Victorian concepts of sexuality, ideals of beauty, gender roles, and consumerism.

The Barge, from The Rape of the Lock.
The Barge, from The Rape of the Lock.

He borrowed aspects from various artistic movements and adapted them to suit his own ideas. His frequent themes were decay, death, and explicit eroticism, and he combined these themes with Arabesque influences to deliver highly detailed masterpieces.

Venus between terminal gods.
Venus between terminal gods.

He was eccentric in his life as well as in his art: he enjoyed shocking people with his art, but he also wore very extravagant clothes that included yellow gloves and leather pants. He was associated with the homosexual clique that included Oscar Wilde and other English aesthetes of the time, but not many details are known about his sexuality.

Throughout his life, he claimed he was asexual, but speculations about his sexuality include rumors of an incestuous relationship with his older sister Mabel.

Portrait of Beardsley by Frederick Hollyer, 1893.
Portrait of Beardsley by Frederick Hollyer, 1893.

Beardsley’s artworks influenced numerous artists from various departments of art, including painters, illustrators, designers and writers.

Here is another Art Nouveau story from us: The Slav Epic was Alphonse Mucha’s Art Nouveau masterpiece. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1939.

He was one of the primary inspirations of the famous Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov, who praised Beardsley in several of his novels.