photo manipulation by nacrowe
the baroque, JAPANESE-print inspired pen and ink drawings that famed 19th century ENGLISH illustrator AUBREY BEARDSLEY made to accompany the published plays and assorted writings of OSCAR WILDE are legendary. expertly conceived and meticulously drafted with flowing lines so deft that even SANDRO BOTTICELLI or ALBRECHT DURER would be envious.
what always drew me to the work of BEARDSLEY was its immense emotion. they seemed to evoke a world that was stark, impossibly elegant and sophisticated yet uncannily debauched. it is the art of power through the prism of sex.
much like the work of WILDE showcases human folly through the extreme hubris and egoism of the aristocracy, the work of BEARDSLEY similarly evokes a coded world were subterranean powers struggles are hinted at yet paradoxically on full display. this was very much transgressive against the societal mores of proper VICTORIAN society, where it was unbecoming to touch on such subjects.
my personal favorite of his drawings is the revered illustration of the biblical execution of JOHN THE BAPTIST by KING HEROD as a gift for his wife upon being asked for it. to me it crystallized most of the themes of his other work and his greatest parody of VICTORIAN values. where power and debauchery trump moral purity (as represented by JOHN THE BAPTIST).
for me this is a very modern illustration and worked seamlessly with WILDE's play SALOME which covers similar themes. hard to believe such a work was completed at age 12. could only imagine what his career would have been like if he had survived longer, having succumbed to TUBERCULOSIS at 25.
again for me his work is on a short list of my favorite artists, including FRANCIS BACON, GOYA and CARAVAGGIO. its too bad the originals are mostly owned by HARVARD UNIVERSITY and virtually never on display. i don't blame them.