Aubrey Beardsley, born in 1872, had tuberculosis when he was 7 years old, so knew that he would not live into old age and had to make the most of his short life, sadly dying when he was only 25 years old. However, in his short life, he achieved an incredible amount, as the exhibition at Tate Britain shows. Famous for his decadent, swirling, exquisitely-detailed, irreverent and occasionally rude drawings which were mostly made for illustrations in books or magazines such as ‘Salome’ by Oscar Wilde, his works have been an inspiration to later generations. Influenced by a variety of influences including Renaissance and Japanese art and artists such as Edward Burne-Jones, James McNeill Whistler and Toulouse-Lautrec you have to admire the intricate and beautiful detailing he achieved, which makes a stark contrast to the large scale of Andy Warhol’s work on show at Tate Modern.
There are links with Scotland – one of the books he illustrated was a collection of plays by the Scottish writer John Davidson and a patron who supported him financially in his later years was Marc Andre-Raffolovich, who also built the church of St Peter’s in Morningside and was the companion of John Gray, a poet who converted to Catholicism and became priest at the church.
The exhibition ends with a review of Beardsley’s ongoing influence after his death, even into quite recent times, with an obvious comparison with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but also later works by the like of Christopher Charles James, David Stahlbeg and Martin Sharp.