Beardsley (1872 – 1898) was an English artist and illustrator of the Aesthetics movement, the British equivalent of the European Decadent movement, and was one of the artists whose work went on to inspire the art nouveau movement.
"I have one aim — the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing."
Aubrey Beardsley died very young at the age of 26 from tuberculosis, and was only artistically active for a period of around 6 years, though was very prolific during that time.
Aubrey Beardsley's distinctive style is characterized by its simple graceful lines in black ink and with high contrasts. Large areas of Beardsley's drawings would be blacked out where others would be left a blank white. Though not only did Beardsley contrast light and dark but also high detail and stark bareness. His female figures were normally tall graceful and powerful woman, whereas his rarer male figures were comparatively diminutive and grotesque.
Beardsley's emphasis on erotic art is present in many of his later drawings, but most famous were his illustrations for Lysistrata and Oscar Wilde's Salome. Beardsley's style is often compared to Japanese Shunga which no doubt inspired him. Though the story of Lysistrata does include the theme of grossly engorged genitals, the enormous genitals in his ink drawings for Lysistrata were a common theme in Shunga art.
Lysistrata was a Greek comedy written in 411BC by Aristophanes. The story line revolves around the women of Greece attempting to bring a peaceful end to the Peloponnesian War by depriving their partners of sex until they agreed to end the war peacefully. Beardsely's drawings show men of the war with enormously engorged penises due to their wives' chastity.
These erotic drawings, among many others, were considered too obscene for polite society, which even Aubrey Beardsley himself accepted in the end. One of his last acts after converting to Catholicism was to plead with his publisher to "destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings...by all that is holy all obscene drawings." His publisher, Leonard Smithers, not only ignored Beardsley wishes, but continued to sell reproductions and outright forgeries of Beardsley's work.