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( Originally Published 1913 )
I had almost written " Prints of the Perverse " as title for this chapter. " Le Pervers " is the epithet used by a French art critic, M. de Montesquiou, for the work done in art by an English boy who, born at Brighton in 1872, was to become the least English of artists, and in his six-and-twentieth year to die a famous man.
Certainly the black-and-white drawings done by Aubrey Vincent Beardsley were non-English. They were all perverse, most of them were morbid, and some of them were prurient; but they will long be regarded as rare and unique pages in the great portfolio of the world's art.
At Paris in 1909 an exhibition of Beardsley drawings and prints was held in the Galerie Shirley, and the same year an exhibition took place at the Baillie Gallery, Bruton Street, W. There are many Beardsley collectors in France. " Beardsleys " are collectable for their rarity and attraction, and they will everywhere appreciate in value. So let me indicate some of the publications in which Beardsley prints may be found.
The " Savoy " and the " Yellow Book."-With some complacency I turn to my ninepenny copy of the Savoy, first number, published January 1896, at half a crown net. The Savoy, an Illustrated Quarterly, was a short-lived periodical, for illness cut Beardsley's art-editorship of it short. I bought this first number of it for ninepence years ago. In the original boards, it contains no less than eleven Beardsley prints, and I have been careful not to detach and frame them; first numbers are always worth collecting and keeping intact.
Beardsley put his whole heart and art into the first number of the Savoy. It gave him his best opportunity as art-editor, and his interest in it was proprietary too. So he wrote and illustrated a poem in it, began a novel in it, and drew three fine page pictures ; and the full-page design for the cover is one of the few land scapes which ever came from his pen. Please understand that all, or nearly all, his work was pen-workblack on white. In the contents page you see a John Bull garlanded, wings to his top-hat, wings to his top-boots, and clasped in his arms those unfamiliar tools, for John, the black-lead pencil and the quillpen.
Beardsley had been art-editor of the Yellow Book, a quarterly publication, which began in 1894. Sets of the Yellow Book are advertised by several of the numberless second-hand booksellers who send me their catalogues ; but I fancy that these are reprints. Beardsley's drawings were reproduced by the process block, I know, and " process " does not wear and blur as wood-blocks used to do ; nevertheless, if I bought Yellow Books it must be the original issues. In the Idler for 1897 and 1898 there are Beardsley prints.
Other Work, and a Warning.-That bit of advice applies also to copies of " Salome " and other books by the same author, which Beardsley illustrated. I hope I am wrong in thinking that the recent reprints of Wilde's books took place without due regard to indicating the date. But I am almost certain that portfolios of the Maupin and Harlot series have been re-issued undated. The time will come when dates of issue will be important in " Beardsleys."
Beardsley's earliest work of all appeared in the Pall Mall Magazine and the Pall Mall Budget, attracting attention about the year 1892. In 1893 Messrs. Dent chose him as illustrator of their edition of " La Morte d'Arthur," and this was the book which first brought him fame. " Salome," and the " Rape of the Lock," " Mademoiselle de Maupin," and the " Pierrot of the Minute," widened his reputation ; he had just begun his work on " Volpone," when at Mentone, in 1898, he died; consumption had long marked him for her own.
I possess a copy of " Earl Lavender," a novel by that illfated poet, John Davidson ; it was published in 1895, by Messrs. Ward and Downey, and contains a frontispiece which is a bit of Beardsley's best pure outline work. This, too, cost me ninepence. I bought it as a " remainder." For sevenpence less than that sum I bought a fine copy of a separately issued print, the portrait of a well-known actress as Yseult, black, white, and red.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of Beardsley successes, and there is no scale of prices for Beardsley collectors to go by as yet. One of them will some day give us a complete catalogue, I hope. Single prints can be bought to-day at from is. to 5s. apiece.
Beardsley Drawings.-The desire of every collector of " Beardsleys " is to find a Beardsley drawing, the work of the hand itself ; but Beardsley drawings are all but unfindable now, and they have been forged. The true drawings are larger and better than the prints. One of them, a portrait of Mrs. Patrick Campbell, hangs in a place of honour at the Berlin Museum. That, I think, is the only permanent exhibition of Beardsley's work which has so far taken place. You will search in vain for equal honour done to the artist in London. Yet he was a prodigy, a genius, a fated soul. He had studied Botticelli and Durer, Whistler and Burne-Jones ; he had turned to Japanese colour-prints for suggestions, and to Greek vases for line. Out of these diverse contemplations he formed an original style, and his work is a wild and solemn phantasmagory, charming and yet alarming, a pageant of noble and graceful figures, dwarfs, monsters, and ornament, in formal Dutch gardens-all under a light that never was on sea or land.