Beardsley, with his infamous reputation, tragic life and instantly recognisable style, is one of the paradigmatic figures of the Modern Age, who worked hard to fashion his persona. Born in Brighton in 1872 of lower-class parents and diagnosed a consumptive at the age of seven, Beardsley quickly established himself as a precocious talent. His ...Read MoreBeardsley, with his infamous reputation, tragic life and instantly recognisable style, is one of the paradigmatic figures of the Modern Age, who worked hard to fashion his persona. Born in Brighton in 1872 of lower-class parents and diagnosed a consumptive at the age of seven, Beardsley quickly established himself as a precocious talent. His erotic, decadent illustrations for Oscar Wilde's "Salome" set the tone of his style: by turn shocking, facetious and cruel. Elongated and androgynous himself, he was readily confused with his own degenerate pictures. Sex suffuses his art and accounts for the mixture of fascination and horror with which his pictures were viewed by contemporaries.Read Less
Publishers Weekly, 1999-01-04 In this informative life of Beardsley, the great turn-of-the-century illustrator, limner of impossibly elongated, imperious femmes fatales and fey androgynes, Sturgis captures both his precocious subject's rise to infamy and the cultural changes that made it possible. Like Oscar Wilde, Beardsley was a leading member of the Decadent movement in England during the 1890s. Together they shocked the press and the establishment by cultivating the pose of dandies, coolly removed from prevailing social mores, and took aim at the dominant figures of the late 19th-century art world: moralizing critic John Ruskin and the sentimental pre-Raphaelite painters. That Beardsley met an early death at the age of 25 after a lifelong battle with tuberculosis was especially ironic, as the cult of the doomed youth was central to the Decadent movement. Throughout, Sturgis is in full command of the cultural conditions that led to Beardsley's emergence as an enfant terrible, such as the newly available illustrated picture press that made the artist's deliberately shocking drawings easily available to the masses and turned him into a media-art star avant la lettre. Sturgis never resorts to flimsy psychological conjecture (although his circumspection may in part be due to Beardsley's own efforts to fashion an elaborate mask for public consumption), and the biographer's prose is unexpectedly affecting when the end comes for his subject, as Beardsley rushes from spa to sanitarium, searching for a cure, frantically taking up and abandoning projects all the while. Arriving as it does in the midst of our own surface-obsessed fin de siècle, Sturgis's solid biography is not only a faithful record of Beardsley and of his world but also a useful study of the birth pangs of modernity. 26 b&w photographs and Beardsley's line drawings throughout. (Feb.)
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