Aubrey Beardsley, Notable and Controversial Artist of the 19th Century Decadent Movement

Within two years after the publication of his first book illustrations, one of the leading figures in the Aesthetic Movement, Aubrey Beardsley was the best-known artist in England at the end of the 19th Century and is known as one of the most unusual careers in art history. Beardsley's influence on decorative arts, art nouveau and modern graphic arts is undeniable.

By the 1890s, decadence was a term with origins in common with aestheticism. At the center of The Decadent Movement is a raw, uncensored creative expression, which Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) is well-known for.

Aubrey Beardsley's "art is eerie, graphic, and erotic. He draws us into beautiful worlds of spectacle and decadence, but always at its center is sexuality in some guise. Elements of the sensual and the crude in his work are inescapable. He even wrote a novel titled Under the Hill that can only be described as pornographic, in which, among other things, Venus masturbates a unicorn." --Excerpt from A World of Fascination, The Gay & Lesbian Review.

Born in 1872, in Brighton, England, Beardsley was forced to give musical concerts along with his sister due to their poor financial situation at home. Both children were considered artistic and musical prodigies. For four years he attended Bristol Grammar School where he was noted for his talent as a poet, and where he discovered his drawing skills. (source:

Aubrey Beardsley made a name for himself at a young age as a great illustrator. From his association with Oscar Wilde, to his erotic and satirical art style, Beardsley’s life was notorious. His innovative work is admired by many across the world. Learn the story of Aubrey Beardsley through five of his artworks. (source:

Beardsley often represented same-sex attraction and gender fluidity in his artworks, which was rare for the Victorian period.

As a queer artist in history, at the age 23, "after a meteoric rise to fame, Beardsley’s career came to a swift and catastrophic end [after Oscar Wilde was tried for homosexuality on April 26, 1895] because of his association with Wilde.

With his professional life in tatters, the only work the once-sought-after artist could find was with Leonard Smithers, a publisher with a lucrative sideline in pornography. Two years after his humiliating fall from grace, Beardsley, aged twenty-five, died of tuberculosis in Menton, France. Like Wilde, he had become an exile from his country and a pariah among his countrymen. In his final, agonized letter, written on his deathbed, he implores Smithers to destroy “all obscene drawings” that he had produced." --Excerpt from The Fall of Aubrey Beardsley , The Gay & Lesbian Review.

(Above: Join Tate curators Caroline Corbeau-Parsons and Alice Insley as they discuss the iconic illustrator's short and scandalous career- in conjunction with the 2020 Aubrey Beardsley Exhibition.)


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