Tragic and titillating: the life and work of illustrator Aubrey Beardsley

A new show at Tate Britain delves into the short-lived but prolific career of the illustrator, who shocked Victorian society to its core with his salacious ink drawings

Despite dying from tuberculosis at the tender age of 25, Aubrey Beardsley was able to cement his position as one of the enfants terribles of fin-de-siècle London in just a few short years, thanks to his reputation for creating opulent and erotic illustrations that typically sent shockwaves through Victorian era Britain.

A new exhibition at Tate Britain in London is celebrating the brief but hugely successful career of the illustrator, who produced hundreds of drawings for books, periodicals and posters during the late 19th century.

Top: The Climax; Above: The Peacock Skirt, both from Oscar Wilde’s Salome, 1893
The Black Cape
, from Oscar Wilde’s Salome, 1893

Curated in collaboration with Museé d’Orsay in Paris, the show brings together 200 works in what is the largest display of Beardsley’s illustrations in over 50 years, and the first exhibition of his work at Tate since 1923.

Highlights include Beardsley’s series of illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s controversial play Salomé, along with his work as art director of controversial literary quarterly The Yellow Book, both of which are good examples of how he was able to simultaneously represent the decadance of the era and scandalise public opinion.

The Yellow Book Volume I, 1894
The Lady with the Rose, Verso, 1897. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

Visitors can also expect to get a glimpse into Beardsley’s diverse cultural influences – which ranged from Japanese woodblock prints to illicit French literature – and the movements and artists he in turn influenced. Works on show from the latter include Picasso’s Portrait of Marie Derval from 1901, and Klaus Voormann’s famous artwork for the cover of the Beatles’ album Revolver.

Aubrey Beardsley is at Tate Britain until 25 May;


Milton Keynes