Robert Ross

Aubrey Beardsley

106 printed pages



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    Daniel Lewinhas quoted5 years ago
    Chopin. Ballade III. Op. 47
    Reproduced by permission of Charles Holme, Esqre.
    A few months afterwards, he commenced the "Morte d'Arthur." Suggested and intended to rival the volumes of the Kelmscott Press, it is his most popular and least satisfactory performance. Still the borders have far more variety and invention than those of Morris; the intricate splendours of mediæval manuscripts are intelligently imitated or adapted. The initial- and tail-pieces are delightful in themselves, and among the most exquisite of his grotesques and embellishments. But the popularity of the book was due to its lack of originality, not to its individuality. Mediævalism for the middle classes always ensures an appreciative audience. Oddly enough, Morris was said to be annoyed by the sincerest form of flattery. Perhaps he felt that every school of art comes to an end with the birth of the founder, and that Beardsley was only exercising himself in an alien field of which Morris himself owned the tithe. At all events it is not unlikely that Beardsley aroused in the great poet and decorator the same suspicion that he had undoubtedly done in Watts.
    The "Morte d'Arthur" may be said, for convenience, to close Aubrey Beardsley's first period; but he modified his style during the progress of the publication, and there is no unity of intention in his types or scheme of decoration. He was gravitating Japanwards. He began, however, his so-called Japanesques long before seeing any real Japanese art, except what may be found in the London shop windows on cheap trays or biscuit-boxes. He never thought seriously of borrowing from this source until some one not conversant with Oriental art insisted on the resemblance of his drawings to Kakemonos. It was quite accidental. Beardsley was really studying with great care and attention the Crivellis in the National Gallery; their superficial resemblance to Japanese work occasioned an error from which Beardsley, quick to assimilate ideas and modes of expression, took a suggestion, unconsciously and ignorantly offered, and studied genuine examples. "Raphael Sanzio" (first version) was produced prior to this incident, and "Madame Cigale's Birthday Party" immediately afterwards. His emulation of the Japanese never left him until the production of the Savoy Magazine. In my view this was the only bad artistic influence which ever threatened to endanger his originality, or permanently vitiate his manner. The free use of Chinese ink, together with his intellectual vitality, saved him from "succumbing to Japan," to use Mr Pennell's excellent phrase.

    From "The Rape of the Lock"
    A series of grotesques to decorate some rather silly anthologies produced in the same year as the "Morte d'Arthur" are marvels of ingenuity, and far more characteristic. With them he began a new period, throwing over the deliberate archaism and mediævalism, of which he began to tire. In the illustrations to "Salomé," he reached the consummation of the new convention he created for himself; they are, collectively, his masterpiece. In the whole range of art there is nothing like them. You can trace the origin of their development, but you cannot find anything wherewith to compare them; they are absolutely unique. Before commencing "Salomé" two events contributed to give Beardsley a fresh impetus and stimulate his method of expression: a series of visits to the collection of Greek vases in the British Museum (prompted by an essay of Mr D. S. McColl), and to the famous Peacock Room of Mr Whistler, in Prince's Gate—one the antithesis of Japan, the other of Burne-Jones. Impressionable at all times to novel sensations, his artistic perceptions vibrated with a new and inspired enthusiasm. Critical appreciation under his pen meant creation. From the Greek vase painting he learned that drapery can be represented effectually with a few lines, disposed with economy, not by a number of unfinished scratches and superfluous shading. If the "Salomé" drawings have any fault at all, it is that the texture of the pictures suggests some other medium than p
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