First published in 1998, this is the first book to examine the critical reception accorded to Beardsley’s work.
For most of his short working life fierce debate raged in Britain over the merit of Aubrey Beardsley’s black and white drawings. Applauded for their technical skill, they were as often deplored for their ‘slimy nastiness’, their fin-de-siècle decadence and their foreign styles. There are ‘tainted whiffs from across the channel which lodge the Gallic germs in our lungs. Our Beardsleys have identical symptoms with Verlaine, Degas, Le Grand, Forain, and might quite well be sick from infection’ stormed Margaret Armour in the Magazine of Art.
Jane Haville Desmarais opens with an account of the English response, exploring the fascinating interplay between Beardsley’s exploitation of the new media to shape his public persona and promote his work and the critics’ use of his life and art to articulate the fears and anxieties of the English fin de siècle. The second half of the book moves to France and deals with a different set of preoccupation. The French perceived Beardsley as the natural inheritor of the mantle of Pre-Raphaelitism. His work remained current largely through the interest of the Symbolists and, in particular, Robert de Montesquiou who celebrated Beardsley’s picturing of the fantasy realms of desire. The intriguing study of two very different critical traditions casts light on key issues of art history and literary studies, in particular the relationship between critical response and social perception.
With 21 black and white illustrations, the book also has invaluable appendices which include a bibliography of criticism and comment on the work of Aubrey Beardsley between 1893 and 1914.
Table of Contents
1. The Beardsley Industry. 2. Aubrey constructs Beardsley. 3. Absinthe and Artifice. 4. English Art and French Resistance: 1893-1914. 5. The Last Pre-Raphaelite. 6. Beardsley and the Symbolists. 7. Robert de Montesquiou and the ‘Perverse Idol’.
Jane Haville Desmarais