Odd Man In

The Early Work of Aubrey Beardsley

by Aubrey Beardsley
Da Capo, 344, 174 plates pp., $12.50

The Later Work of Aubrey Beardsley

by Aubrey Beardsley
Da Capo, 360, 157 plates pp., $12.50

The Early Work of Aubrey Beardsley

by Aubrey Beardsley
Dover, 175, 159 plates pp., $2.50

The Later Work of Aubrey Beardsley

by Aubrey Beardsley
Dover, 174, 174 plates pp., $2.50

Aubrey Beardsley Drawings

by Aubrey Beardsley
United Book Guild, 160 pp., $10.00

Aubrey Beardsley: A Biography

by Stanley Weintraub
Braziller, 320 pp., $6.00

Aubrey Beardsley

by Brian Reade
His Majesty's Stationers, 50 pp., $1.70

The Art Nouveau Book in Britain

by John Russell Taylor
M.I.T., 196 pp., $12.95

The Flowering of Art Nouveau

by Maurice Rheims
Abrams, 430 pp., $22.50

Aubrey Beardsley
Aubrey Beardsley; drawing by David Levine

“I wonder if you ever see any illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley’s and what do you think of them? I would like to know. A great many people are now what they call modern. When I state my likes and dislikes they tell me I am not modern, so I suppose I am not—advanced.” Thus Kate Greenaway to Ruskin in February 1896. Even without Ruskin’s answer (though its tone is surely not too hard to imagine) this must be one of the more bizarre confrontations of the nineteenth century; on the one hand, the popular illustrator of Mother Goose and The “Little Folks’ ” Painting Book, on the other, the “Fra Angelico of Satanism,” soon to embark on the Lysistrata drawings. If it was the “modernity” that worried her more than anything else (and the quotation helps to substantiate Professor Gordon’s fascinating article in Encounter of October 1966 on this aspect of the reaction to Beardsley), the reason may be that Miss Greenaway appreciated, even more readily than we are able to do, that innocence and depravity were not all that easy to distinguish: had not Max Nordau, the self-professed expert in such matters, accused her—of all people—of creating “a false and degenerate race of children in art”?

As a matter of fact the parallels between the careers of these seemingly so disparate illustrators are closer than one might think, and it is tempting to pursue them further. It was the drawings of Kate Greenaway that first inspired Beardsley’s own efforts in this field; both were claimed by their admirers to draw like Botticelli—and while the comparison between the Primavera and Dame Wiggins of Lee, and her seven wonderful cats may seem surprising, it will be seen below that equally odd juxtapositions were liable to be made between the art of Beardsley and that of the Renaissance masters. Moreover, the influence of both of them abroad was achieved in the most improbable circumstances—Gauguin was among Kate Greenaway’s admirers, and one French critic said of Seurat’s Grande Jatte that it was “a flat imitation of Miss Kate Greenaway.” To investigate the analogies further would be unjust to the talents of a man who claimed that “I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing,” but it is worth pondering on the fact that the figures in his drawings were described in his heyday as “sexless”—the very adjective that is generally used of those drawn by Kate Greenaway. Perhaps she was more modern than she realized.

IT IS ODD that we know so little about Beardsley in spite of so much information. Mr. Weintraub’s serious and conscientious biography can answer almost none of the questions that puzzle us, and even the unfair and cantankerous (but lively) book on the artist by his critic and friend Haldane Macfall which appeared in 1928, when many of Beardsley’s contemporaries were still alive, treats…

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