It is 100 years since fin-de-siecle fallen angel Aubrey Beardsley, ink master of the Belle Epoque, died from TB at the scandalous age of 26. And yet the renaissance of interest in this decadent hero of Art Nouveau testifies to the huge and various achievements (writing prominent amongst them) that he fitted into little more than six years of intense work. The yearning, melancholic Beardsley, "faint and eager with desire", fired with the urgency of youth, rejected all mediocrity and taboo in his creation of the perfect arabesque Fantasia. Awake to everything from Japanese woodcuts through to Wagnerian and Arthurian legends, he took the line for a walk through a poised black and white dream of the decorated world, a landscape where sin is redeemed in beauty. The 7894 appearance of the seminal Yellow Book (which he co-founded), along with his work on another magazine, Savoy, saw him variously labelled rowdy, satanic and sleazy, the subject indeed of a Parliamentary Bill, but Beardsley remains today as influential in both life and art as his contemporary Oscar Wilde (whose Salome he notoriously and explicitly illustrated); a model of wit, commitment and invention. A lonely Pierrot of artifice, but never artificial.
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