The Tate Britain Exhibition: Aubrey Beardsley

The Largest exhibition of his drawings since 1966

Aubrey Beardsley The Climax 1893 (published 1907). Stephen Calloway.
Aubrey Beardsley The Climax 1893 (published 1907). Stephen Calloway.

To Tate or not to Tate… that is the question.

Yes! If you’ve not had the pleasure of exploring at least one of these exceptional art museums you’re missing out indeed.

The Tate is an institution that houses the United Kingdom’s national collection of British art, contemporary art and international modern art. In total, the Tate network consists of four separate art museums. Offering a plethora of works for both the casual viewer and high art critic to feast on, this is one adventure too tempting to resist adding to your bucket list.

To sweeten the pot, the Tate in London is featuring a rare and fascinating glimpse into the life and work of the illusive English illustrator and author Aubrey Beardsley (1872- 1898). A British Decadent and self proclaimed dandy, Beardsley’s work is best known for it’s sexually charged nature often bordering on the pornographic. Few art students have escaped the captivating renderings produced by Beardsley. In fact, most anyone would be sure to recognize at least one of his more popular works.

As the art editor for The Yellow Book, a quarterly literary periodical he co-founded in 1894, Beardsley illustrated such controversy-laden pieces as Oscar Wilde’s Salome. At a time when French novels of illicit nature were intentionally wrapped in yellow paper as a warning to the buyer, The Yellow Book, was by intent dyed a glorious golden hue… a symbolic rebellion against the establishment.

Beardsley came into his unique visual voice just as the Art Nouveau movement was reaching its peak. Inspired by the past, he incorporated strengths of both Japanese wood block prints and Renaissance drawing. His opus is a culminating celebration of line. Black and white, positive and negative, that was his forte. Beardsley once likened his passion for the simplicity of the saturated black line to a passage in Boccaccio: “The grass was so green that it was nearly black.” It’s a quote I find intriguing. A friend of mine once talked about a blue so blue it hurt. I often try to imagine that blue. So deep, so rich… jewel like… velvety. Eternal beauty in a single element. Perhaps that feeling is similar to what moved Beardsley.

Aubrey Beardsley 1872–1898
Aubrey Beardsley 1872–1898

Aubrey Beardsley Self-Portrait 1892. British Museum
Aubrey Beardsley Self-Portrait 1892. British Museum

Tragically, tuberculosis took the life of Beardsley at the young age of 25 in 1898 of. Extremely prolific in the short time he had, it’s particularly moving that crippled by such a painful disease he was able to create a wealth of such beautiful and provocative works as his legacy to humanity. In the words of Arthur Symons, a contemporary and fellow contributor to the infamous Yellow Book, Beardsley had ‘the fatal speed of those who are to die young and the absorption of a lifetime in an hour’.

Aubrey Beardsley The Peacock Skirt 1893 (published 1907). Stephen Calloway.

The Beardsley exhibit at Tate offers up over 200 pieces, the largest showing of Beardsley’s work in Europe since the seminal 1966 exhibition at the V&A. An exceptionally rare delight. To view a brief virtual exhibition tour visit

Where: Tate Britain


London SW1P 4RG

When: 4 March – 20 September 2020

Timed tickets must be booked online in advance

Cost: $21/ Free for members book here

14 views0 comments