Posts Tagged ‘The apparition

10
May
20

Exhibition: ‘Aubrey Beardsley’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 4 March – 25 May 2020

The Tate, London has temporarily closed until further notice due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

#MuseumFromHome

 

 

Frederick Evans (British, 1853-1943) 'Aubrey Beardsley [with hands]' 1893

 

Frederick Evans (British, 1853-1943)
Aubrey Beardsley [with hands]
1893
Platinum print and photogravure, mounted on opposing pages of a paper folio
Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

While working as a clerk, Beardsley spent his lunchtimes browsing in Frederick Evans’s nearby second-hand bookshop. This had an important impact on his developing artistic and literary tastes. Beardsley became close friends with Evans, who was also a talented amateur photographer. The image on the left has become known as the ‘gargoyle portrait’ because Beardsley’s pose echoes the famous carved figure on Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. This portrait was used in early editions of Beardsley’s work and has become the defining image of the artist.

 

 

There he is

There he is, all aquiline nose, patrician air; thin wrists and hands that infinity strengthens,

Mannerist hands, hands like the buttresses of some great cathedral, supporting that noble face.

There he is, this genius of invention, this suave sophisticate, this pervader of decadent beauty,

this grotesque who produced a thousand drawings in seven years, who lived a thousand lives in just seven years.

There he is, this son of Blake, this offspring of Lautrec and japonaiserie,

all primed in subtle sexualities, shocking, fame, subversion… strange.

There he is, love of yellow, flowering enormous genitalia, erotic illustrations of distorting scale, women ambiguity,

as bold as life, diseased as death, driving his body on while his mind accretes mythologies.

Now he stands, a fantastical visionary, existing as product of unchecked imagination.

An illusion, a fabrication of the mind; an unrealisable dream, a fancy,

his utopia a grotesque, chimerical beauty.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the media images in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Tate Britain’s major new exhibition celebrates the brief but astonishing career of Aubrey Beardsley. Although he died tragically young at the age of just 25, Beardsley’s strange, sinuous black-and-white images have continued to shock and delight for over a century. Bringing together 200 spectacular works, this is the largest display of his original drawings in over 50 years and the first exhibition of his work at Tate since 1923.

Beardsley (1872-98) became one of the enfants terribles of fin-de-siècle London, best remembered for illustrating Oscar Wilde’s controversial play Salomé. His opulent imagery anticipated the elegance of Art Nouveau but also alighted on the subversive and erotic aspects of life and legend, shocking audiences with a bizarre sense of humour and fascination with the grotesque. Beardsley was prolific, producing hundreds of illustrations for books, periodicals and posters in a career spanning just under seven years. Line block printing enabled his distinct black-and-white works to be easily reproduced and widely circulated, winning notoriety and admirers around the world, but the original pen and ink drawings are rarely seen. Tate Britain exhibits a huge array of these drawings, revealing his unrivalled skill as a draughtsman in exquisite detail.

The exhibition highlights each of the key commissions that defined Beardsley’s career as an illustrator, notably Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur 1893-4, Wilde’s Salomé 1893 and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock 1896, of which five of the original drawings are shown together for the first time. As art director of the daring literary quarterly The Yellow Book, the artist also created seminal graphic works that came to define the decadence of the era and scandalised public opinion. Bound editions and plates are displayed alongside subsequent works from The Savoy and illustrations for Volpone 1898 and Lysistrata 1896, in which Beardsley further explored his fascination with eroticism and the absurd.

Beardsley’s imagination was fuelled by diverse cultural influences, from ancient Greek vases and Japanese woodblock prints, to illicit French literature and the Rococo. He also responded to his contemporaries such as Gustave Moreau, Edward Burne-Jones and Toulouse Lautrec, whose works are shown at Tate Britain to provide context for Beardsley’s individual mode of expression. A room in the exhibition is dedicated to portraits of Beardsley and the artist’s wider circle, presenting him at the heart of the arts scene in London in the 1890’s despite the frequent confinement of his rapidly declining health. As notorious for his complex persona as he was for his work, the artist had a preoccupation with his own image, relayed throughout the exhibition by striking self-portraits and depictions by the likes of Walter Sickert and Jacques-Emile Blanche.

Additional highlights include a selection of Beardsley’s bold poster designs and his only oil painting. Charles Bryant and Alla Nazimova’s remarkable 1923 film Salomé is also screened in a gallery adjacent to Beardsley’s illustrations, showcasing the costume and set designs they inspired. The exhibition closes with an overview of Beardsley’s legacy from Art Nouveau to the present day, including Picasso’s Portrait of Marie Derval 1901 and Klaus Voormann’s iconic artwork for the cover of Revolver 1966 by the Beatles.

Aubrey Beardsley is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, with the generous support of the V&A, private lenders and other public institutions. It is curated by Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, Curator of British Art 1850-1915, and Stephen Calloway with Alice Insley, Assistant Curator, Historic British Art.

Press release from the Tate Britain website

 

 

 

Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain – Exhibition Tour | Tate

Join Tate curators Caroline Corbeau-Parsons and Alice Insley as they discuss the iconic illustrator’s short and scandalous career.

Before his untimely death aged twenty-five, Beardsley produced over a thousand illustrations. He drew everything from legendary tales featuring dragons and knights, to explicit scenes of sex and debauchery. His fearless attitude to art continues to inspire creatives more than a century after his death.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Withered Spring' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Withered Spring
1891
Graphite, ink and gouache on paper
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection

 

 

The framing of the main image by ornamental panels and lettering shows the influence of aesthetic movement illustrators, as well as that of Burne-Jones. The inscription on the gate behind the figure is partly obscured. In full it would read ‘Ars Longa Vita Brevis’ (‘art is long-lasting, life is short’). As Beardsley was diagnosed with tuberculosis aged seven, this Latin saying must have had personal resonance.

 

 

Introduction

Few artists have stamped their personality so indelibly on their era as Aubrey Beardsley. He died in 1898 at the age of just 25 but had already become one of the most discussed and celebrated artists in Europe. His extraordinary black-and-white drawings were instantly recognisable. Then, as now, he seemed the quintessential figure of 1890s decadence.

At the end of the 19th century, a period that had seen vast social and technological changes, many began to fear that civilisation had reached its peak and was doomed to crumble. ‘Decadent’ artists and writers retreated into the imagination. Severing the link between art and nature, they created a new sensibility based upon self-indulgence, refinement and often a love of the bizarre. No other artist captured the danger and the beauty, the cynicism and brilliance of the age as Beardsley did with pen and ink.

Beardsley was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of seven. The disease was then incurable, so he knew from childhood that his life would be a brief one. This led him to work at a hectic pace. One contemporary described his determination ‘to fill his few working years with the immediate echo of a great notoriety’. Moving rapidly from style to style, he created well over a thousand illustrations and designs in just five years. Beardsley was catapulted to fame in 1893 by an article about his work in The Studio magazine. He went on to illustrate Oscar Wilde’s play Salome and become art editor of The Yellow Book, a periodical that came to define the era.

Beardsley’s illustrations displayed remarkable skill and versatility, but few people ever saw his actual drawings. He always drew for publication and his work was seen primarily in books and magazines. He was one of the first artists whose fame came through the easy dissemination of images, his reputation growing day by day as his sensational designs appeared.

This exhibition offers a rare chance to see many of Beardsley’s original drawings. It also sets Beardsley in his social and artistic context. Works by other artists punctuate the exhibition, showing how he absorbed diverse artistic influences but always retained his own style.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Incipit Vita Nova' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Incipit Vita Nova
1892
Graphite, ink and gouache on paper
Linda Gertner Zatlin

 

 

The title of this drawing refers to Dante Alighieri’s 1294 text La Vita Nuova and translates as ‘New Life Begins’. Some have seen the foetus as a potent symbol for Beardsley. Its significance is unclear beyond linking sexuality, life and death, all key themes in Beardsley’s work. It also reflects his fascination with shocking imagery and the grotesque, the term used traditionally to describe deliberate distortions and exaggerations of forms to create an effect of fantasy or strangeness. He once said, ‘if I am not grotesque I am nothing’.

 

 

Beginnings

Beardsley’s artistic career spanned just under seven years, between 1891 and 1898. When he was 18 he met the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, an artist he deeply admired. Having seen Beardsley’s portfolio, Burne-Jones responded: ‘I seldom or never advise anyone to take up art as a profession, but in your case I can do nothing else.’ On his recommendation, for a short time Beardsley attended classes at Westminster School of Art.

Beardsley longed for fame and recognition. This went hand in hand with an intensely cultivated self-image and pose as a dandy-aesthete. This important aspect of his identity is illuminated through self-portraits and portraits by his contemporaries throughout the exhibition.

Witty, tall, ‘spotlessly clean & well-groomed’, Beardsley was soon noted for his dandyism. A delight in refinement and artificiality in both dress and manner, dandyism was integral to the decadent creed. Some contemporaries related the artist’s extreme thinness and fragile physical appearance to ideas of morbidity also associated with decadence.

While Beardsley rejected the label of decadence, his work explores many aspects of it, such as a fascination with the ‘anti-natural’ and the bizarre, with sexual freedom and gender fluidity. What present-day society refers to as LGBTQIA+ identities were only just beginning to be formulated and articulated during his lifetime. Beardsley was attracted to women, but he was a pioneer in representing what we might now call queer desires and identities. Though fascinated by all aspects of sexuality, it seems likely that his explorations of these interests were primarily through literature and art.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Self-portrait' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Self-portrait
1892
Ink on paper
British Museum
Presented by Robert Ross in 1906

 

 

Apart from a few childish sketches, this is Beardsley’s first recorded self-portrait, made at the age of about 19. His newly adopted centre-parted fringe, fashionable high collar and large bow tie show that he had already formed a distinctive self-image. A few months earlier, he had described himself as having ‘a vile constitution, a sallow face and sunken eyes’.

 

Russell & Sons. 'Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley' c. 1893?

 

Russell & Sons (Photographers)
Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley
c. 1893?
Cartes de visite / cabinet card
Albumen print

Please note: This photograph is not in the exhibition

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Finding of Medusa; The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor); Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Finding of Medusa; The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor); Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

This design forms part of Burne-Jones’s ambitious scheme for a series of large wall decorations on the theme of Perseus. Although the work was never completed as he intended, Burne-Jones still proudly displayed ten full-scale preparatory drawings for the panels in his garden studio. They must have made a strong impression on Beardsley when he visited Burne-Jones in August 1891.

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Finding of Medusa' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Finding of Medusa
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor)' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor)
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Perseus eventually discovers Medusa with her sisters, the Gorgons. Unlike her they are all immortal. Using Athena’s mirror to defend himself, Perseus beheads Medusa, at which point the winged horse Pegasus and the warrior Chrysaor spring from her decapitated body. When the Gorgons attempt to punish Perseus for killing their sister, he evades them by using the helmet given to him by the sea nymphs, thus becoming invisible.

Gallery label, June 1993

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'The Litany of Mary Magdalen' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
The Litany of Mary Magdalen
1891
Graphite on cream wove paper laid down on board
227 × 169 mm
The Art Institute of Chicago, The Charles Deering Collection
Public domain

 

 

The Italian painter Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506) was a key reference for both Burne-Jones and Beardsley. At Burne-Jones’s suggestion, Beardsley particularly studied the early engravings after Mantegna’s designs. Throughout his life Beardsley kept a set of reproductions of these prints pinned to his wall. In this subject of his own invention, he freely borrows details of costume, pose and gesture from figures in various of Mantegna’s works, particularly The Entombment (c. 1465-70).

 

Andrea Mantegna (Italian, c.  1431-1506) 'The Entombment of Christ' c. 1465-75

 

Andrea Mantegna (Italian, c.  1431-1506)
The Entombment of Christ
c. 1465-75
Engraving and drypoint; second state of two
11 7/16 × 16 3/8 in. (29 × 41.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937
Public domain

Please note: This engraving is not in the exhibition

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Tannhäuser' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Tannhäuser
1891
Ink, wash and gouache on paper
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection
Public domain

 

 

Beardsley was an avid opera-goer. He attended several performances of Wagner’s works at this time, including Tannhäuser at Covent Garden in April or May 1891. He would return to Wagnerian subjects many times in his art and writings. The story of Tannhäuser was a particular favourite. He later made it the subject of his own erotic novella The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser. Here he shows the knight in pilgrim’s robes, among trees that appear like prison bars, trying to find his way back to the goddess’s enchanted realm, the Venusberg.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Die Götterdämmerung' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Die Götterdämmerung
1892
Ink, wash and gouache on paper
Aubrey Beardsley Collection, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University

 

 

Beardsley took this subject from Wagner’s opera, the title of which translates as ‘The Twilight of the Gods’. It has been suggested that the frieze-like composition depicts three different moments of the story. According to this interpretation, the scene to the right refers to the prologue, showing the Fates, with the bearded Wotan holding his magic spear. He also appears seated at the centre of the composition with Siegfried standing by him to tell his story to a group of hunters. Finally, Wotan may be represented again seated, in profile, wearing his Wanderer’s hat.

 

Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), is the last in Richard Wagner’s cycle of four music dramas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung, or The Ring for short). It received its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 17 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of the Ring.

Die Götterdämmerung,” notes Emma Sutton in Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s (2002), “Beardsley’s only drawing of the concluding part of the Ring cycle, was probably prompted by the first performance for a decade of the Ring in London in June and July 1892. It is extremely likely that he attended a performance of the drama; he certainly attended Siegfried, and produced drawings on Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, and of the principle singers, in this year.

No interpretation of the drawing has, to my knowledge, ever been offered, perhaps because its stylistics might suggest that it is an incomplete or experimental, Impressionistic work. The drawing is, however, an intricate and highly knowledgeable representation of Wagner’s work, demonstrating Beardsley’s comprehensive knowledge of Die Götterdämmerung (and, indeed, of the whole cycle) from the very start of the decade. Beardsley presents the gods shrouded in long drapes in a bleak forest setting; with their elongated limbs and enveloping robes they appear androgynous figures, listless and melancholy, entrapped by the sharp bare stems that rise from the border and ground around them.

Despite the undulating lines of the landscape, Die Gotterdammerung is a scene of desolate stasis, bleakly portraying Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods. A compression of several scenes from Wagner’s drama, the drawing is, I would suggest, an extraordinarily innovative and ambitious attempt to evoke concisely the narrative events and cumulative tone of the entire drama.”

~ Emma Sutton, Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s (2002)

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Anonymous. “Aubrey Beardsley’s “Die Götterdämmerung”,” on the Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton website [Online] Cited 02/03/2020

 

Le Morte Darthur

In early 1892, Beardsley received his first major commission. His friend, the photographer and bookseller Frederick H. Evans, introduced him to J.M. Dent. The energetic and enterprising publisher was looking for an illustrator for Le Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century version of the legends of King Arthur. Dent planned a substantial edition in the style of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press books. Between autumn 1892 and June 1894 Beardsley produced 353 drawings, including full and double-page illustrations, elaborate border designs and numerous small-scale ornamental chapter headings. He received £250 over the course of this commission. This freed him to leave his hated job as a clerk and focus on art-making.

Beardsley gradually grew weary of this colossal undertaking and went off-brief. Subversive details started to appear in his drawings. He also introduced incongruous characters such as mermaids and satyrs, goat-legged hybrid creatures from classical mythology.

His illustrations were reproduced using the relatively new and economical line block printing process in which drawings are transferred onto printing plates photographically. Beardsley was at first disappointed with the printing of his drawings, but he quickly adapted his style to suit the line block process. Uniquely, this could reproduce both the finest of lines and large, flat areas of black.

The works in this room demonstrate the development of Beardsley’s art over two years, and how he combined many different sources to create his own visual language.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'The Achieving of the Sangreal' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
The Achieving of the Sangreal
1892
Ink and wash on paper
Private collection

 

 

This is the sample drawing that secured Beardsley the Morte Darthur commission. Dent declared it ‘a masterpiece’, and it was used as the frontispiece for Volume II. It seems to refer to the crucial episode of the book, in Chapter XIV, where Sir Percival kneels to make a prayer to Jesus in the presence of Sir Ector, and the Sangreal (popularly called the Holy Grail) appears to him, ‘borne by a maiden’.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How Morgan Le Fay Gave a Shield to Sir Tristram' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How Morgan Le Fay Gave a Shield to Sir Tristram
1893
Ink on paper
The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

(Illustration from: Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur. London: Dent, 1894)

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How la Beale Isoud Wrote to Sir Tristram' c. 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How la Beale Isoud Wrote to Sir Tristram
c. 1893
Ink over graphite on paper
Alessandra and Simon Wilson

 

 

This drawing brings to mind the comment by the art historian John Rothenstein that ‘the greatest among Beardsley’s gifts was his power of assimilating every influence and yet retaining, nay developing, his own peculiar individuality’.

Isoud (Isolde) here resembles the Pre-Raphaelite figure Jane Morris. The German Renaissance form of her desk is borrowed from Albrecht Dürer’s engraving St Jerome in his Study (1513-14). The simple, flattened construction of the space reflects Beardsley’s interest in Japanese prints. These contrast with the flowing lines of the sunflower border, a typical aesthetic motif.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How Sir Tristram Drank of the Love Drink
1893
Ink on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

 

This is one of Beardsley’s boldest and most rhythmic drawings. Tristram’s outstretched arm follows the movement of the hybrid flower. The flat outline of Isolde’s recoiling body parallels that of Tristram’s cloak, all against the strong vertical and horizontal lines formed by the curtains with their stylised rose border. Isolde’s long cape, seen from the back, is a forerunner of Beardsley’s famous Peacock Skirt in his Salome illustrations (on display later in this exhibition).

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How La Beale Isoud Nursed Sir Tristram' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How La Beale Isoud Nursed Sir Tristram
1893
Ink over graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'How King Arthur saw the Questing Beast, and thereof had great marvel' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
How King Arthur saw the Questing Beast, and thereof had great marvel
1893
Ink and wash on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Together with Siegfried Act II (shown nearby), this drawing reflects the height of Beardsley’s fine ‘hair-line manner’. The drawing has great variety of treatment, showing that Beardsley’s style evolved while working on the commission. To alleviate boredom, he took great liberties with Malory’s text. He introduced mythological characters with little to do with the Arthurian legend, such as Pan, here. There are also discreet additions, including a treble clef top right, and even a phallus on the far left of the bank.

 

 

Something suggestive of Japan

The European craze for Japanese visual culture had begun in the 1860s after trade links were re-established. Beardsley grew up surrounded by western interpretations of Japanese art. In the summer of 1891, together with his sister Mabel, he visited the London mansion of the shipping magnate Frederick Leyland. There he saw the ‘Peacock Room’ created 15 years earlier by the expatriate North American artist James McNeill Whistler. Decorated with borrowed and reworked Japanese motifs, this masterpiece of the aesthetic movement had become one of the most celebrated interiors in London. Mesmerised by his visit, Beardsley began to introduce such details into his own drawings.

Japanese woodblock prints (Ukiyo-e) were also an important influence. Beardsley adopted their graphic conventions. His new style included areas of flat pattern contrasted with precisely drawn figures against abstracted or empty backgrounds. Like several artists at this time, he also favoured the distinctive, tall and narrow format of traditional Japanese kakemono scrolls.

In a letter to a friend, Beardsley bragged, ‘I struck for myself an entirely new method of drawing and composition, something suggestive of Japan… The subjects were quite mad and a little indecent.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) Design for a Frontispiece to 'Virgilius the Sorcerer' c. 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Design for a Frontispiece to Virgilius the Sorcerer
c. 1893
Ink over graphite on paper laid down on board
The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Robert Allerton

 

 

Following the glowing article in The Studio, many publishers approached Beardsley with commissions for illustrations and book covers. David Nutt, an old established publishing firm, generally specialised in early texts and folklore. Although made for Nutt’s ‘medieval legends’ series, Beardsley’s design is, somewhat incongruously, in the style of a Japanese print.

 

 

A New Illustrator

Beardsley first came to public notice in April 1893. He was the subject of the lead article, ‘A New Illustrator’, in the first issue of the new art magazine The Studio. In it, the graphic art expert Joseph Pennell praised Beardsley’s work as ‘quite as remarkable in its execution as in its invention: a very rare combination.’

Pennell welcomed Beardsley’s use of ‘mechanical reproduction for the publication of his drawings’. The article highlighted how photographic line block printing showed the true quality of an artist’s line.

The reproductions in The Studio article included both medieval and Pre-Raphaelite style illustrations for the forthcoming Le Morte Darthur and examples of Beardsley’s work inspired by Japanese woodblock prints. This displayed his versatility and led to further commissions for books and popular journals, such as the Pall Mall Magazine. J.M. Dent, the publisher of Le Morte Darthur, rightly worried Beardsley would get bored of that long-term project. To keep him interested, he invited him to create hundreds of tiny ‘grotesque’ illustrations for the Bon-Mots series, three miniature books of witty sayings. In this context, the term grotesque relates to distortion or exaggeration of form to create an effect of fantasy or strangeness. For Beardsley the idea was central to his way of seeing the world. Summing up his own art, he later said, ‘I am nothing if I am not grotesque.’

 

Grotesque

In art history, the grotesque – which originally referred to the decoration of grottoes – has come to denote a strand of Renaissance art composed of deliberately weird elements, often including imaginary hybrid forms. These often combine parts of human heads and bodies, animals and plants. Mermaids, satyrs, fauns and other mythical figures frequently appear in Beardsley’s art. But he also added foetuses, often with adult bodies, and other distorted figures to his grotesque repertoire. The resulting imagery is playful, irreverent and fantastical, but also has dark undertones. The grotesque lies at the heart of Beardsley’s art. He explained: ‘I see everything in a grotesque way. When I go to the theatre, for example, things shape themselves before my eyes just as a I draw them… They all seem weird and strange to me. Things have always impressed me in this way.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Kiss of Judas' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Kiss of Judas
1893
Ink on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This drawing illustrates a short story by ‘X.L’ (the North American writer of horror fiction Julian Osgood Field). The macabre tale tells of a legend of the descendants of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus in the Christian New Testament. It is written with the arch tone of much 1890s fiction:

‘They say that the children of Judas, lineal descendants of the arch traitor, are prowling about the world, seeking to do harm, and that they will kill you with a kiss.’ ‘Oh, how delightful!’ murmured the Dowager Duchess.

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Smaller figures appear in many of Beardsley’s works, such as the nude in The Kiss of Judas. Some viewers have read these as representations of people with dwarfism. In most cases we do not know if this was Beardsley’s intention. He never strived for realism in his work. He played with scale, exaggerating and distorting lines and shapes, including in self-portraits. But the cultural stereotyping of people with dwarfism was prevalent in Beardsley’s lifetime. In the late 19th and early 20th century, they were predominantly seen as sources of entertainment in ‘freak shows’ and carnivals. These offensive attitudes almost certainly influenced Beardsley’s imagery to some extent.

 

 

Salomé

In 1892, Beardsley made a drawing in response to Salomé, Oscar Wilde’s play, originally written in French and based on the biblical story. Salomé falls in love with Iokanaan (John the Baptist). When he rejects her, she demands his head from her step-father, Herod Antipas, as a reward for performing the dance of the seven veils. Beardsley depicts her about to kiss Iokanaan’s severed head. Wilde admired the drawing and he and his publisher, John Lane, chose Beardsley to illustrate the English translation of the play. The illustrations weave together themes of sensuality and death, and explore a wide range of sexual desires. The play’s publication created a sensation, just as Beardsley and Wilde had hoped.

Beardsley delighted in hiding provocative elements in his drawings. Lane recalled, ‘one had, so to speak, to place his drawings under a microscope, and look at them upside down’. Nervously, he censored ‘problematic’ details in Beardsley’s title page and the illustration Enter Herodias and rejected two designs altogether from the first edition. Even so, Lane missed many erotic details and, surprisingly, also allowed publication of Beardsley’s teasing drawings that include caricatures of Wilde.

Beardsley produced 18 designs in total, of which only 10 appeared in the first printing of the play. The impressions exhibited here come from the portfolio which Lane issued in 1907, almost a decade after Beardsley’s death. This was the first edition to contain all the original designs and an additional one, Salome on Settle.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Climax' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Climax
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

The flowing, sinuous lines in this design demonstrate how much art nouveau is indebted to Beardsley. He abandoned the Japanese kakemono format and hairline style of his original version of the image J’ai baisé ta bouche, Iokanaan (also in this room). By simplifying the lines of the design, he creates a more powerful focus on the moment when Salome can finally kiss Jokanaan’s lips – now that he has been beheaded. The stream of blood forms an elegant ribbon, while the lily rising from the pool that the fluid creates symbolises his chastity.

 

 

The Climax

The Climax is an 1893 illustration by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), a leading artist of the Decadent (1880-1900) and Aesthetic movements. It depicts a scene from Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, in which the femme fatale Salome has just kissed the severed head of John the Baptist, which she grasps in her hands. Elements of eroticism, symbolism, and Orientalism are present in the piece. This illustration is one of sixteen Wilde commissioned Beardsley to create for the publication of the play. The series is considered to be Beardsley’s most celebrated work, created at the age of 21. …

First published in 1894, The Climax consists of strong, precise lines, decorative motifs characteristic of the developing Art Nouveau style, and the use of only black ink. Beardsley’s style was influenced by Japanese woodcuts also known as Ukiyo-e, which comes through in the flatness of imagery, compositional arrangement, and the stylistic motifs. Elements of eroticism are also apparent.

The main focus of this illustration, Salome, floats in midair and in her hands she holds the head of John the Baptist just after she kissed it, depicting the final words said by Salome in the play “J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan, j’ai baisé ta bouche” (“I have kissed your mouth, Jokannan, I have kissed your mouth”). Her hair billows in snake-like tendrils above her as she stares powerfully into the eyes of John the Baptist. His severed head drips blood that nourishes the phallic lily. The flower also symbolises purity. Composing the background behind these two figures is a white quarter section of the moon and a stylised depiction of peacock feathers, a signature motif in Beardsley’s illustrations, made of concentric circles.

Beardsley satirised Victorian values regarding sex, that at the time highly valued respectability, and men’s fear of female superiority, as the women’s movement made gains in economic rights and occupational and educational opportunities by the 1880s. Salome’s power over men can be seen in the way that Beardsley presents her as a monster-like figure, reminiscent of Medusa.

 

Reaction

Beardsley said of his drawing that rather than using thicker lines for the foreground than those for the background, he felt that the lines should be the same width. Morgan Meis of The New Yorker states that “his influence on the look of Art Nouveau, and then on early modernism, is hard to overstate. His thick black lines fused the graphical ideas of the past with the techniques and subject matter of a new age just on the horizon.” He was an inspiration to Japanese illustrators, graphic designers, and printmakers of the early 20th century Taishō period.

The Climax is described as among his finest works by Ian Fletcher and established him as one of the “Decadence”. It was not appreciated, though, by mainstream art critics of the time, who found the Salome drawings repulsive and unintelligible. Art historian Kenneth Clark said that it “aroused more horror and indignation than any graphic work hitherto produced in England.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Dancer’s Reward' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Dancer’s Reward
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Salome is contemplating her prize. Gaping, she tilts Jokanaan’s severed and bleeding head towards her. Once again, their expressions mirror each other. The elongated arm of the executioner holds up the platter on which the head rests. This drawing resonates with European symbolist art, in which the contemplation of a severed head is a recurring image.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Toilette of Salome' (second version) 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Toilette of Salome (second version)
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Stomach Dance' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Stomach Dance
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Salome is shown performing her celebrated dance to the sounds produced by an impish musician. Wilde wrote appreciatively to Beardsley after Salome was published: ‘For Aubrey: for the only artist who, besides myself, knows what the dance of the seven veils is, and can see that invisible dance.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Eyes of Herod' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Eyes of Herod
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This illustrates the passage before Salome’s famous dance in exchange for the head of Jokanaan. Talking about Herod, Salome remarks pensively: ‘Why does the Tetrarch look at me all the while with his mole’s eyes under his shaking eyelids? It is strange that the husband of my mother looks at me like that. I know not what it means. Of a truth I know it too well.’

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Enter Herodias' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Enter Herodias
1893 (published 1907)
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Enter Herodias is named after a stage direction in Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé. Wilde originally wrote the play in French, and he chose Beardsley to illustrate the English translation of the play. Beardsley drew erotic and satirical images, some of which were entirely unrelated to the plot of play.

Enter Herodias shows the moment when Salome’s mother enters the stage. To the bottom right there is a caricature of Oscar Wilde holding a copy of Salome and gesturing up at his own play. It also includes two nude figures. Herodias’s breasts are exposed but she is covered by the large cloak. John Lane, who was Beardsley’s publisher, demanded that Beardsley cover the page on the right’s genitalia with a fig-leaf. But he failed to spot the penis-shaped candles the artist had drawn in the foreground, and the erection of the figure to the left.

Beardsley’s obsession with the erotic played upon Victorian taboos. Beardsley was often deliberately trying to be provocative. Many people at the time thought that Beardsley’s obsession with erotic art came from the fact that he was young and ‘consumptive’. Today we call ‘consumption’ Tuberculosis (or TB). A strange, but frequent 19th century perception of TB was that it went hand in hand with an obsession about sex.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'John and Salome' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
John and Salome
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This depicts a scene of powerful tension between Jokanaan (left) and Salome (right). By the use of mirrored poses and interlocking folds of drapery – like an image of yin and yang – he expresses the characters’ conflicted feelings of attraction and rejection. John Lane refused the design, either because of the partial nudity of Salome, or possibly because of the androgynous appearance of the Baptist who could here be Salome’s twin.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Black Cape' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Black Cape
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Peacock Skirt' 1893

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Peacock Skirt
1893
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This is one of Beardsley’s most famous and acclaimed designs. It conflates two scenes from the play. In one, the page of Herodias warns the young Syrian about looking too much at Salome. In the other, Herod promises 50 of his white peacocks in exchange for Salome’s dance and imagines them forming a ‘great white cloud’ around her. The scene was abstracted by Beardsley in a flamboyant demonstration of his calligraphic skills.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan' 1892-3

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan
1892-3
Ink and wash on paper
Aubrey Beardsley Collection, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University

 

 

This is Beardsley’s first interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s play, before it was translated into English. It was reproduced in the first issue of The Studio, and it is characteristic of Beardsley’s intricate hairline style. It may well have been a bid to illustrate the play. If it was, it paid off, as Wilde did ask John Lane to commission Beardsley. The artist applied some green watercolour to the drawing after it was published.

 

Gustave Moreau. 'The apparition' 1874-76 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
The Apparition (detail)
1874-6
Watercolour on paper
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, gift of Charles Ayem

 

 

This watercolour made a strong impression on Oscar Wilde at the 1876 Paris Salon exhibition. It represents the bloody vision of John the Baptist’s head appearing while Salomé dances for Herod. It featured in Joris-Karl Huysmans’s 1884 novel À Rebours (Against Nature). In it, the reclusive hero contemplates this watercolour. Wilde could quote at length from this ‘bible’ of decadence. Both the novel and The Apparition played a part in the creation of Wilde’s own Salomé.

 

 

Alla Nazimova (1879-1945)
Charles Bryant (1879-1948)
Salomé
1923
Film, 35 mm, black and white
Running time: 1hr 12mins
Sets and costumes by Natacha Rambova, after Aubrey Beardsley

 

This 1923 silent “Salome” is probably the best filmed version of the scandalous Oscar Wilde one-act play. It’s basically a photographed avant-garde theatre production performed on a single set based on Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for the published play.

 

 

Alla Nazimova’s Salomé

This 1923 silent film is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s play. The imaginative set and costumes by Natacha Rambova are directly inspired by Beardsley’s drawings, and credited as such. The project was conceived and led by Alla Nazimova, a famous Hollywood actor during the silent movie era. She was drawn to Salome and financed its screen adaptation herself. Nazimova had relationships with women and her film reflects themes of same-sex desire present in Beardsley’s drawings. Charles Bryant, with whom she pretended to be married, was credited as the director, as women did not have equal status in Hollywood.

This film perpetuates some demeaning stereotypes that were current during Beardsley’s lifetime and beyond. This is reflected particularly in the portrayal of the musicians with dwarfism. At that time people with restricted growth were widely associated with servitude and treated as a source of spectacle.

 

 

Posters

When Beardsley first travelled to Paris in 1892, he was enthralled by the many posters that adorned the city. The French posters showed the possibilities of this new mass-produced outdoor format and the potential of large-scale colour reproduction. Beardsley was quick to embrace this. Understanding that posters would be viewed in passing, often at a distance, his designs experimented with bold, simplified forms and solid blocks of colour. For Beardsley, advertising was central to modern life and an opportunity to integrate art into everyday experience. As he put it, ‘Beauty has laid siege to the city’.

In the autumn of 1894, the first ever English exhibition of posters opened in London. Pictorial posters were enjoying a boom in Britain and were beginning to be recognised as an art form. The exhibition featured work by celebrated French artists such as Jules Chéret and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, known as the ‘fathers’ of the modern poster. Significantly, it also included several works by Beardsley. Not only did this place Beardsley’s posters on a par with the art that had inspired him, it also attested to his importance in the development of British poster design.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901) Divan Japonais 1892

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901)
Divan Japonais
1892
Colour lithograph on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

In Paris, Beardsley would have encountered Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters, including this one, on hoardings across the city. It advertises the popular cabaret nightspot, the Divan Japonais, and depicts two stars of Parisian nightlife, the singer Yvette Guilbert and the dancer Jane Avril. Beardsley was inspired as much by Toulouse-Lautrec’s vivid portrayal of modern life as his striking style, typified by dramatic blocks of colour, silhouettes and bold outlines. The admiration was mutual: Toulouse-Lautrec also expressed the wish to buy a copy of Salome.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Pseudonym and Autonym Libraries' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Pseudonym and Autonym Libraries
1894
Colour lithograph on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This poster shares its title with the series of novels and short story collections it promotes. The name was inspired by the publisher, T. Fisher Unwin’s, recognition that women often wrote under a pseudonym, whereas men used their actual name (autonym). The woman pictured here appears confident as she rushes towards the bookshop, implying that knowledge brings freedom.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Isolde' Printed 1899

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Isolde
Printed 1899
Colour lithograph and line block print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Turning again to Wagner for inspiration, Beardsley depicts the tragic heroine, Isolde, on the brink of drinking the fateful love potion. She stands against a stage curtain, bright red in the original design and equally bold in the orange used for this first printing. Beardsley asserted, ‘I have no great care for colour, but [in posters] colour is essential’. This design was published as a colour lithograph supplement in The Studio in October 1895.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'A Comedy of Sighs' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
A Comedy of Sighs
1894
Colour lithograph on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This was Beardsley’s first poster design. It appeared on walls and hoardings around London shortly after the publication of Salome and introduced his art to an even wider audience. The poster stole the limelight from the performances of the two short plays it advertised. Critics were outraged by the woman’s ‘ugliness’ and the indecency of her plunging neckline. Punch magazine even punned, ‘Let’s “Ave-a-nue” Poster!’

 

 

Beardsley’s Circle

This room introduces the key figures in Beardsley’s life. The glowing article in The Studio and his success with Le Morte Darthur had brought him into the public eye at the age of 20. Following this, a sequence of fortuitous meetings with leading cultural figures of the day led him to the heart of avant-garde literary and artistic circles in 1890s London. Witty, talented and well-read, he was rapidly taken up by a group of young artists and writers who identified as aesthetes, acutely sensitive to art and beauty. These included the portrait painter William Rothenstein; Max Beerbohm, the essayist and caricaturist; and the art critic and dealer Robert Ross, the friend and former lover of Oscar Wilde. Beardsley’s fame grew with the publication of his illustrations to Wilde’s Salome in 1894 and his involvement in the fashionable magazine The Yellow Book, a period addressed in the following room. At this point his group of friends began to expand rapidly. But with the fall of Wilde early in 1895, Beardsley moved first to Dieppe, and thereafter spent little time in England.

In his last years his circle included fellow contributors to The Savoy magazine: the poets W.B. Yeats and Arthur Symons and the painter Charles Conder. The wealthy French-Russian poet and writer Marc-André Raffalovich became an important supporter and patron. His most significant friend in this period was Leonard Smithers, his endearing but unscrupulous publisher.

His mother and sister Mabel were constants throughout his brief life. They were with him when he died at Menton on the French Riviera in 1898.

This room nods at Beardsley’s orange and black decoration scheme in the Pimlico house that he and Mabel owned briefly in 1894. ‘Orangé’ was famously described as the chief decadent colour by Joris-Karl Huysmans in his 1884 novel À rebours (Against Nature), which may have informed Beardsley’s choice.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Professor Fred Brown' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Professor Fred Brown
1892
Graphite and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by Mrs Helen Thorp 1927

 

 

In 1891 Beardsley enrolled at the Westminster School of Art on the advice of Edward Burne-Jones. For just a few months he attended evening classes given by the school’s principal, the painter Fred Brown. Brown was a pillar of the avant-garde exhibiting society, the New English Art Club. Beardsley added the society’s initials to Brown’s name in the title of this drawing.

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942) 'Charles Conder' 1904

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942)
Charles Conder
1904
Oil paint on canvas

Tate, Presented by Georges A. Mevil-Blanche 1947

 

 

Conder specialised in painting fans and small pictures on silk depicting romanticised figures in 18th-century costume. He and Beardsley became close during the planning of The Savoy magazine in the summer of 1895 when many of their circle were gathered in Dieppe.

Jacques-Emile Blanche lived near Dieppe and was a friend of Degas, Manet and Renoir. However, he also made frequent visits to England, where he painted and exhibited and was well known in artistic and society circles. This is a portrait of the British painter Charles Conder (1868-1909), who was greatly interested in contemporary French art. Conder befriended Toulouse-Lautrec who helped him obtain an exhibition in Paris. Blanche first met Conder in Paris, but they became friends in 1895 when they both spent the summer in Dieppe. This portrait, which captures his flamboyant character, was painted in Conder’s house in London.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1895

 

Jacques-Émile Blanche (French, 1861-1942)
Aubrey Beardsley
1895
Oil paint on canvas
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

The society painter Blanche welcomed many of the English artists and writers who visited Dieppe to his nearby family home. This portrait, painted during the summer of 1895, shows the extent to which Beardsley had adopted the dress and cultivated the manner of Parisian dandies such as Comte Robert de Montesquiou.

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1894

 

Walter Richard Sickert (British, 1860-1942)
Aubrey Beardsley
1894
Tempera on canvas
Tate, Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 1932

 

 

Sickert observed Beardsley in Hampstead churchyard following a ceremony for the unveiling of a bust commemorating the Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821). Though angular and painfully thin, he was elegantly dressed as always. Keats had died young from tuberculosis. The parallel between the poet and the artist cannot have been lost on those friends, like Sickert, who knew of Beardsley’s condition.

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (English, born America 1882-1966) 'W.B. Yeats' 1908

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (English, born America 1882-1966)
W.B. Yeats
1908
Photo-etching on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

Yeats was a leading figure of the Irish poetic and nationalist movement, the ‘Celtic Twilight’. He was also central as an activist in London literary circles. The idea of the poets, writers and artists of the 1890s as sensitive, decadent and doomed owes much to Yeats’s myth-making in his later memoirs. In these he painted a compelling picture of ‘The Tragic Generation’.

 

William Rothenstein (British, 1872-1945) 'Robbie Ross' 1895-1930

 

William Rothenstein (British, 1872-1945)
Robbie Ross
1895-1930
Oil on canvas
13 1/8 in. x 10 in. (333 mm x 254 mm)
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 2005
© National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

The writer and art critic Robert Ross was a pivotal figure in the aesthetic and decadent culture of 1890s London. He was Oscar Wilde’s first male lover and later became his literary executor, working tirelessly to safeguard his works and re-establish his reputation. Ross also used his connections and influence to promote and protect many friends, including Beardsley and his family. His 1909 book on Beardsley was one of the first serious studies and remains a valuable source of insights.

 

Reginald Savage (British, 1886-1932) 'John Gray' c. 1896-7

 

Reginald Savage (British, 1886-1932)
John Gray
c. 1896-7
Lithograph on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

As a young poet John Gray was initially a protégé of Oscar Wilde. He later moved away from the decadents and converted to Catholicism. He was ordained in 1901 and served for many years as the priest at St Peter’s Morningside, Edinburgh. The church was built by his lifelong companion Marc-André Raffalovich, a wealthy writer who provided Beardsley’s principal financial support in his last years.

 

 

The Yellow Book

In 1894, Beardsley became art editor of The Yellow Book, a magazine that would become the most iconic publication of the decade. Its distinctive appearance immediately set the tone. Yellow was fashionable, urban, ironic and risqué, recalling the yellow wrappers of popular French erotic novels. The first volume was an instant and controversial success. Notably, it put art and literature on an equal footing. But it was Beardsley’s drawings that stole the show and gave the magazine its avant-garde reputation. Their bold style and daring modernity received praise and scorn in equal measure. With each new volume, his notoriety increased. To many the publication embodied the decadent spirit, and, as one critic observed, ‘to most, Aubrey Beardsley is The Yellow Book.

However, Beardsley’s meteoric success was short-lived. In 1895, Oscar Wilde was put on trial for sexual relationships with men and prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’. As the scandal tore through London, the backlash turned towards the notorious magazine and its audacious art editor. In the public mind, Beardsley was already connected to Wilde through his Salome illustrations. When Wilde was seen at his arrest carrying a yellow book (in fact a French novel, not The Yellow Book), the link between the author and the artist was damning. Outraged crowds broke the windows of the publishing house. John Lane, the publisher, succumbed to pressure and sacked Beardsley.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Cover Design for 'The Yellow Book'' Vol.I 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Cover Design for The Yellow Book Vol.I
1894
Ink on paper
Tate. Bequeathed by John Lane 1926

 

 

Beardsley instantly set the tone for the magazine with this design for the first volume. His highly stylised manner, dramatically setting pure white against flat black, was completely new. The subject, two masked revellers abandoning themselves to hedonism, was also bold. The overt sensuality of the laughing woman was particularly shocking for the time. Oscar Wilde described her as ‘a terrible naked harlot’.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Yellow Book' Volume I 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Edited by Aubrey Beardsley 1872-1898 (art) and Henry Harland 1861-1905 (literature)
The Yellow Book, Volume I
1894
Elkin Mathews & John Lane, London April 1894
Stephen Calloway

 

 

In 1894 Aubrey Beardsley became the first Art Editor for The Yellow Book, a new literary periodical. There were hostile reactions to The Yellow Book from the wider press, who were alarmed by the shocking and ‘immoral’ illustrations and writing. The Westminster Gazette even commented that the publication should be made illegal. Things only got worse for Beardsley and The Yellow Book in 1895. The trial and conviction of Oscar Wilde for ‘gross indecency’ with men became linked to the publication. The press mistakenly reported seeing Wilde leaving the Cadogan Hotel with a copy of The Yellow Book under his arm. In fact, he was carrying a French erotic novel, which often had yellow covers.

Beardsley, who had collaborated with Wilde on Salome and whose art was strongly linked with The Yellow Book, was caught up in the scandal. He was dismissed as editor for The Yellow Book. Having lost his regular source of income, he was forced to sell his house and he temporarily moved to France.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Slippers of Cinderella' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Slippers of Cinderella
1894
Ink and watercolour on paper
Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press

 

 

This is one of the rare drawings in which Beardsley used colour. It was first printed in black and white as he added the watercolour later. When it was published in the second volume of The Yellow Book, it was accompanied by a caption, probably written by the artist himself. This outlined a darker version of the Cinderella story, in which she is poisoned by powdered glass from her own slippers.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'La Dame aux Camélias' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
La Dame aux Camélias
1894
Ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by Colonel James Lister Melvill at the request of his brother, Harry Edward Melvill 1931

 

 

Beardsley was fascinated with the depiction of women at their dressing-tables. Here, the woman gazing into the mirror is the tragic heroine of the novel La Dame aux Camélias (1848), by French writer Alexandre Dumas. Beardsley may have identified with her because she, like him, had tuberculosis. He added washes of watercolour to the drawing between 1894 and 1897, after it had been published in The Yellow Book.

The title refers to the novel by Alexandre Dumas fils, published in 1852, which tells the tragic story of a courtesan who sacrificed herself for her lover. The picture is part of a group of drawings of a woman at her dressing table and was originally published simply as Girl at Her Toilet. It is not clear whether Beardsley intended it from the outset to be a portrait of Madeleine Gautier, but it appears to relate to an earlier drawing of 1890, which is inscribed with the title of Dumas’s novel and bears some resemblance to this work in the silhouetted figure and treatment of the draperies. Beardsley may have identified with Madeleine Gautier, since, like her, he suffered from tuberculosis and would eventually also die of the disease.

The leitmotif of a woman admiring herself in a mirror recalls the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), which Beardsley would have known. He may also have had in mind the work of Edgar Degas (1834-1917), who devoted much of his later career to pictures of woman at their toilet. Like many of Beardsley’s drawings of this period the picture is highly stylised. A solid black mass envelops the lower half of the room and seems about to consume the figure. Her arms have disappeared altogether, and her face is barely revealed above the extravagant collar of her frilly overcoat. The influence of Japanese woodcuts, which Beardsley collected, is apparent in the broad flat areas of colour and the use of silhouette. The most carefully realised passages in the drawing are the objects on the dressing table and the floral pattern of the wallpaper, which depicts either roses or camellias. The woman’s profile reveals dark shadows under the narrowed eyes and a turned down mouth, giving the impression of either illness or dissipation. However, in general, realism and individuality are suppressed in favour of surface pattern and overall design.

The drawing was first published in the journal St Paul’s on 2 April 1894, and at the time it was one of Beardsley’s most popular works. Six months later it was illustrated with the present title in Volume Three of The Yellow Book, an avant-garde journal of which Beardsley was art editor. Between 1894 and 1897 Beardsley added watercolour washes of pinkish-purple to the drawing, reducing the clarity of the image.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Black Cat' 1894-5

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Black Cat
1894-5
Line block print on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

Commissioned by a North American publisher, Beardsley made four designs for the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). This illustrates Poe’s story of a man who tries to cover up the murder of his wife by concealing her body in the wall. He is betrayed by the shrieks of his black cat, mistakenly enclosed in the wall as well. The fearsome cat appears out of the darkness, its form outlined in white and starkly contrasting with the white of the dead woman’s face.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Frontispiece to Chopin’s Third Ballade' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Frontispiece to Chopin’s Third Ballade
1895
Ink and wash on paper
Tate. Presented by the Patrons of British Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1999
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

The Polish composer Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) was one of Beardsley’s musical heroes. Beardsley emphasises his delicately pointed fingers here. This relates to Chopin’s reputation as a powerful and subtle pianist. Beardsley’s setting is not historically accurate. Instead it is reminiscent of 1870s aesthetic movement interiors. The position of the figure and the curtain recall Whistler’s celebrated portrait of his mother, copied by Beardsley in the letter nearby.

Private collection, Maas Gallery

The Third Ballade was one of the greatest compositions by the Polish pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin who died in 1849 at the age of thirty nine. While an initial viewing might suggest a simple equestrian portrait, there is an implicit subtext of female domination in the woman’s mastery of the horse. Her determined expression, and the disparity between the horse and rider, reinforce this. Although never published in his lifetime, this design was used to illustrate Beardsley’s obituary in The Studio in 1898.

Gallery label, August 2004

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Fat Woman' 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Fat Woman
1894
Ink on paper
Tate. Presented by Colonel James Lister Melvill at the request of his brother, Harry Edward Melvill 1931

 

 

John Lane refused to publish this drawing in The Yellow Book. The most likely reason is because it is an unflattering caricature of the artist Beatrice Whistler, James McNeill Whistler’s wife. Seated in the Café Royal, she is depicted as a domineering member of the demi-monde. Beardsley’s alternative title for the drawing – A Study in Major Lines – emphasises its artistic qualities but also jibes at Whistler’s musical titles.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) Title page to 'The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Title page to The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser
1895
Line block and letterpress print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This design was planned as the frontispiece for Beardsley’s own novel. The story was an erotic and humorous version of the Tannhäuser legend, in which the poet discovers the home of Venus and becomes one of her worshippers. Beardsley had ambitions to be a writer and he continued to obsess over the ultimately unfinished novel until his death. He admitted early on that it progressed ‘tortoise fashion but admirably’. Initially Lane agreed to publish the novel, but in the aftermath of Wilde’s trial he did not dare.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Mirror of Love' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Mirror of Love
1895
Ink over traces of graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley first met Marc-André Raffalovich, a poet and writer, in April 1895. It was not long afterwards that he drew this frontispiece for his collection of poems, The Thread and the Path. The figure in the mirror expresses the theme of the first poem: the quest towards a new ideal that transcended traditional definitions of gender and sexuality. However, the publisher, David Nutt, was shocked by the figure which he believed had both female and male attributes and refused to print it.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Venus between Terminal Gods' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Venus between Terminal Gods
1895
Ink on paper
Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford)

 

 

This drawing was also intended as an illustration for Beardsley’s unrealised novel for John Lane. It depicts Venus framed by two statues of male gods in the form of herms. Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), then President of the Royal Academy, was interested in the rising generation of artists and often commissioned drawings from them. Beardsley recorded that Leighton was encouraging about his work and greatly admired this design.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Caprice' c. 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Caprice
Verso: Masked Woman with a White Mouse
c. 1894
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1923

 

 

This is Beardsley’s only known oil painting. Unusually, it is double-sided. He began it in Walter Sickert’s studio, under his guidance. The subject on the front, Caprice, was painted first and relates closely to The Comedy Ballet of Marionettes I, displayed nearby. It shows a young woman being led through a doorway by an unfinished figure in a fanciful 18th-century costume. In the late-17th and 18th centuries, servants in European noble households included people of colour who were often enslaved and people with dwarfism. They were considered as ‘trophies’, demonstrating the power and status of those they served. Servants with dwarfism were often treated as ‘pets’, expected to amuse and entertain.

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This is the only known oil painting by the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and was painted in the studio of Walter Sickert. It comprises two pictures on one canvas. Caprice, in which a woman is invited through a doorway by a dwarf, and on the back, Woman with a White Mouse. Both are ambiguous scenes that appear to represent carnival. Caprice derives from the drawing Comedy Ballet of Marionettes I which appeared in The Yellow Book in 1894. Like Beardsley’s drawings, Caprice simplifies shape and colour to strengthen the effect.

Gallery label, February 2016

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This is the only known oil painting by Beardsley and, unusually, it comprises two pictures on the one canvas. The first painting to be completed appears to have been A Caprice, a fanciful yet sinister work, depicting a woman in a black dress with green trimmings and a black dwarf in a red costume. On the other side, painted between the stretchers, is an almost surreal image of a masked woman with a white mouse. Both works are unfinished, and should be regarded as experimental

A Caprice appears to derive from the drawing Comedy Ballet of Marionettes I, one of a series of three which appeared in the avant-garde journal, The Yellow Book, in July 1894. In both drawing and painting the woman is being invited by the sinister dwarf to pass through a doorway. The sexual connotations of this gesture are made more overt in the drawing, where the phallic form of the door is emphasised. Beardsley was constantly challenging the conventional view of male-female relations and in the second drawing in the series the woman approaches a door symbolising the female sexual organs.

The symbolism of Woman with a White Mouse also appears to be sexual, and Wilson refers to Freud’s theory that in dreams such things as mice become a substitute for the penis. Nevertheless, although Reade, too, describes the symbolism in this picture as ‘Freudian’, he also points out that Freud’s work was unknown in England in 1894.

Aware of the dramatic potential of black and shadowed areas, Beardsley contrasts areas of dark and light to great effect in both works. He also employs his favourite complementaries, red and green, to provide a stronger colour note in A Caprice. Stylistically he may have been influenced in these paintings by the early work of William Rothenstein (1872-1945), with whom he shared a studio, and whose pictures are inhabited by similarly bold and gloomy saturated forms. He may also have had in mind the work of the Venetian artist Pietro Longhi (1702-1783).

The title A Caprice was invented by the Beardsley scholar R.A. Walker who was the picture’s first owner. The name invites associations with the work of the fin-de-siècle poet Théodore Wratislaw (1871-1933), who published a selection of poems entitled Caprices in 1893.

Frances Fowle
December 2000

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Masked Woman with a White Mouse' c. 1894

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Masked Woman with a White Mouse
c. 1894
Oil paint on canvas
Tate. Purchased 1923

 

 

Masked Woman with a White Mouse was painted second. Beardsley seems to have preferred this side and hung it on the wall in the house he bought in Pimlico.

 

 

The Savoy

Dismissed from The Yellow Book, Beardsley faced the loss of his income and a newly hostile atmosphere in London. Despite his international fame, his financial situation was precarious, and he was forced to sell his house. Beardsley left England for Dieppe, the favourite French seaside resort of English writers and artists. There he encountered Leonard Smithers, an enterprising publisher (and occasional pornographer). Smithers proposed starting a new magazine to rival The Yellow Book.

With Beardsley as art editor and the poet Arthur Symons in charge of literature, The Savoy was launched in 1896, at first as a quarterly. After two issues, Smithers – perhaps unwisely – decided to publish monthly. The consequent strain on his resources meant The Savoy folded after just a year. However, over just eight numbers it became one of the most significant and most beautifully produced ‘little magazines’ of the period.

The Savoy was published in Britain, but social and artistic conservatism were on the rise there following Wilde’s trial. Smithers was the only publisher who would print work by Wilde or Beardsley at this time. Some booksellers, like W.H. Smith, refused to display works by Beardsley in their windows. W.B. Yeats famously declared that The Savoy had valiantly waged ‘warfare on the British public at a time when we had all against us’.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Savoy', Number 1 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Savoy, Number 1
1896
Edited by Aubrey Beardsley 1872-1898 (art) and Arthur Symons 1865-1945 (literature)
Leonard Smithers, London, January 1896
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Third Tableau of Das Rheingold' c. 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Third Tableau of Das Rheingold
c. 1896
Ink on paper
Lent by Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Museum Appropriation Fund

 

 

This drawing, like a play-within-a-play, illustrates an episode in Under the Hill in which the Abbé is ‘ravished with the wit and beauty’ of a performance of Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Savoy', Number 2 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Savoy, Number 2
1896
Edited by Aubrey Beardsley 1872-1898 (art) and Arthur Symons 1865-1945 (literature)
Leonard Smithers, London, April 1896
Stephen Calloway

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Ave Atque Vale' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Ave Atque Vale
1896
Ink on paper
Private collection

 

 

This drawing accompanies Beardsley’s translation of the Hail and Farewell poem (Carmen CI) by Catullus (c. 84 – c. 54 BCE). In it, the Roman poet addresses his dead brother. Beardsley’s spare and beautiful composition captures the moving spirit of the poem. It attracted considerable praise when it appeared in the seventh number of The Savoy. Max Beerbohm wrote that ‘Catullus could not have craved a more finely emotional picture for his elegy’.

 

 

The Rape of Lock

Beardsley was a great admirer of the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744). Oscar Wilde had ridiculed his poetic taste, claiming ‘there are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to like Pope’.

Yet in 1896 Beardsley embarked on the illustration of his mock-epic poem, The Rape of the Lock (1712). In Pope’s title, the word ‘rape’ is used in its original sense of theft or abduction, rather than referring to sexual assault. The poem makes fun of a real incident during which Lord Petre (renamed ‘the Baron’) cut off a lock of the hair of Arabella Fermor (‘Belinda’ in the poem) without her permission, causing a feud between their families.

Inspired by the linear intricacies of French 18th-century copper-plate engravings, which he admired and collected, Beardsley developed a new, highly decorative style. The title page amusingly credits him as having ‘embroidered’ the illustrations.

This is the first time that so many of the original drawings for the book have been exhibited together.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Dream' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Dream
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Beardsley drew this as the frontispiece for Pope’s poem. It illustrates Ariel, Belinda’s guardian sylph (a spirit of the air), by her bed, while she is still dreaming. Beardsley used his new ‘stippled manner’ or use of dots, to render the intricate patterns on the bed curtains.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898 'The Baron’s Prayer' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Baron’s Prayer
1896
Ink and graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

 

The Baron is depicted kneeling at an altar made from a pile of books of love stories. He prays to the God of Love for help to obtain the prize of a lock of Belinda’s hair.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898 'The Rape of the Lock' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Rape of the Lock
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Private collection

 

 

The drawing illustrates the fateful moment when the Baron approaches to cut a lock of Belinda’s hair. She is unaware, her back turned to him. The fancifully dressed pageboy in the foreground (who may be a person with dwarfism) seems to reference a similar character in The Toilette scene in the Marriage A-la-mode series by William Hogarth (1697-1764). This adds an 18th-century connection to the work. He is the only figure to engage with the viewer, as if to point knowingly to the Baron’s mischief.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Cave of Spleen' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Cave of Spleen
1896
Ink on paper
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection

 

 

Belinda, sitting to the right, across the drawing, has sought refuge in the Cave of Spleen. Umbriel, a gnome, is addressing her. Beardsley interpreted the author’s fantastical description of the cave and creatures within. This unleashed his delight in grotesque forms:

Unnumbered throngs on every side are seen
of bodies changed to various forms by Spleen.
Here living teapots stand, one arm held out,
One bent; the handle this, and that the spout…
Men prove with child, a powerful fancy works,
And maids, turned bottles, cry aloud for corks.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Battle of the Beaux and the Belles' c. 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Battle of the Beaux and the Belles
c. 1896
Ink on paper
The Henry Barber Trust, the Barber Institute of Fine Art, The University of Birmingham

 

 

Belinda, furious at the theft of the lock of her hair, faces her attacker the baron. Beardsley chose to depict the moment in the poem just before she throws a pinch of snuff in his face and overpowers him. This drawing was praised for its dramatic action. Beardsley’s virtuosity as a draughtsman is seen in the close-laid lines of his Rape of the Lock illustrations which were particularly admired by his contemporaries. Many thought this series of designs his best work.

 

 

Mademoiselle de Maupin

Beardsley worked on illustrating Théophile Gautier’s novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) for Leonard Smithers between February and October 1897. The hero of the story, D’Albert, searches for the ‘perfect’ woman. Instead he becomes overwhelmingly drawn to a young man. The object of his desire is eventually revealed to be Madelaine de Maupin, a woman who does not conform to gender expectations of the day, particularly through dress, and is attracted to both men and women. The plot reflects on an ideal unification of male and female attributes, a widely discussed idea in literary and artistic circles in 19th-century Europe.

In his preface, Gautier promoted ‘art for art’s sake’. This would become the doctrine of the aesthetic movement, which developed in the late 19th century to promote beauty over meaning or morality in art. D’Albert and de Maupin’s sexual encounter is described in terms of aesthetic perfection. However, de Maupin leaves D’Albert immediately afterwards.

Beardsley used watercolour in his drawings to create a new softer decorative style. His friend Robert Ross suggested that this technique was ‘less demanding’ at a time when his health was in rapid decline. But Beardsley later reverted to a more detailed approach, showing that he was simply exploring new modes of expression.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Mademoiselle de Maupin' 1898

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Mademoiselle de Maupin
1898
Photo-etching on paper
Stephen Calloway

 

 

This is Beardsley’s frontispiece for Mademoiselle de Maupin. It shows the heroine dressed in her preferred outfit, men’s clothes as imagined by Beardsley. This is the first illustration of just six that Beardsley completed for Smithers’s planned edition of Gautier’s novel. He had optimistically intended to draw 32 but was too unwell to fulfil this ambition.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Lady with the Rose' 1897

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Lady with the Rose
1897
Ink, wash and graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Scofield Thayer

 

 

D’Albert does not find Madelaine de Maupin straight away. He first embarks on an affair with a woman he calls Rosette, the subject of this illustration. Beardsley developed different ‘types’ of women in his work, defined by particular features. Here, Rosette, sultry with large, heavy-lidded eyes, conforms to Beardsley’s late ‘type’. The striped walls of the room recall the style of interior decoration that Beardsley had favoured in his own house at 114 Cambridge Street, Pimlico.

 

 

Curiosa

While recuperating in the south of England during the summer of 1896, Beardsley began his two most explicit series of drawings yet. These were both inspired by classical sources. The first was a set of eight designs for the Ancient Greek comedy, Lysistrata, by Aristophanes. In this famous satirical play, Athenian and Spartan women bring an end to conflict by refusing to have sex with their warring menfolk until there is peace between their two cities. Beardsley’s other, equally outrageous set of drawings was made for Juvenal’s Sixth Satire, a misogynistic attack on the morals and sexual habits of the women of Ancient Rome.

These subjects chimed with Beardsley’s own irreverent humour and fascination with all aspects of sexuality – and, perhaps, his own sexual frustrations. Smithers, who prided himself that he would ‘publish what all the others are afraid to touch’, no doubt encouraged him. Matching the exuberant eroticism of the texts, Beardsley adopted a starkly linear style for these drawings. This bold new direction was inspired by his knowledge of Ancient Greek vase painting and Japanese erotic prints.

Very few of Beardsley’s contemporaries would have known of these drawings. Their ‘indecency’ meant they could not be published and advertised in the usual way. Instead they were only made available by Smithers to a select group of like-minded collectors through private subscription. Even so, Beardsley seems to have had second thoughts, perhaps prompted by his growing Catholic faith. On his deathbed, he wrote to Smithers imploring him to destroy all his ‘obscene drawings’, a request that Smithers ignored.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Lysistrata Shielding her Coynte' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Lysistrata Shielding her Coynte
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley made this as the frontispiece image for the book. It introduces the key themes of the play. Lysistrata, the women’s leader, turns her back on a statue of an aroused male deity, usually a symbol of fertility and virility. With one hand she seems to bar sexual relations or, perhaps, pleasure herself. With the other she holds an olive branch and delicately touches the top of an enormous phallus. The implication is that peace will bring an end to war and male sexual frustration. Her knowing smile reveals her control. Her sexual empowerment disrupts traditional Victorian views of male power and of female ignorance about sex.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Two Athenian Women in Distress' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Two Athenian Women in Distress
1896
Collotype print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley referred to this scene as ‘the rampant women’. The play describes the women deserting Athens as abstinence begins to take its toll. One woman even tries to escape by flying on the back of a sparrow. The bird was used as a symbol for male virility and dominance in contemporary pornography, as Beardsley would have known. He subverts that association here by making the sparrow a symbol of female sexual liberation. The drawing for this illustration was destroyed in a fire in 1929. Fortunately, a set of full-size collotype photographic reproductions had been made shortly before.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Cinesias Entreating Myrrhina to Coition' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Cinesias Entreating Myrrhina to Coition
1896
Line block printed in purple on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum
Wikipedia Commons Public domain

 

 

Originally Beardsley wanted to print the Lysistrata series in purple ink, but Smithers abandoned this idea, probably for financial reasons. This is one of a few coloured proofs that survive. It depicts Myrrhina dashing away after teasing her husband, Cinesias. Myrrhina has provoked him to the point that he will do anything in return for sex. She has all the power while her husband is incapacitated by desire. Her clothes, particularly the thigh-high black stockings, suggest Beardsley was influenced by 18th-century pornography and more recent erotic works such as those of the Belgian artist Félicien Rops (1833-1898).

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Examination of the Herald' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Examination of the Herald
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley was greatly inspired by Japanese shunga (erotic) prints. He even hung a series by Utamaro (c. 1753-1806) on the walls of his house in Pimlico, London – to the shock of those that visited. His study of such art is apparent in his adoption of exaggeratedly large phalluses to dramatise the extent of the men’s sexual frustration. In this illustration, the herald’s arrival in Athens to announce that Sparta is prepared to make peace becomes a bawdy joke. The young Spartan is conspicuously vigorous and virile. In contrast, the Athenian is elderly and shrivelled. His close inspection could be read as desire for the younger man or an interest in restoring his own virility.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors' 1896

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors
1896
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

The success of the women’s sex strike is apparent in this drawing. The Lacedaemonian (or Spartan) ambassadors arrive in Athens to make peace, their frustrated sexual desires evident in their absurdly enlarged erections. Beardsley subverts this symbol of male virility and power as it incapacitates the Spartans and makes them ridiculous. The drawing also reveals Beardsley’s knowledge of classical culture. In Ancient Greek comic stage performances, actors sometimes wore large stage-prop phalluses to signal aspects of their character to the more distant sections of the audience.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Impatient Adulterer' 1896-7

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Impatient Adulterer
1896-7
Ink over graphite on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

Beardsley described this drawing as ‘the adulterer fiddling with his foreskin in impatient expectation’. It illustrates Juvenal’s warning against Roman women who pretend to be ill, only so they can stay in bed and await their lovers. The man’s intention is clear, his toes are curled in desire and echo his insulting hand gesture, making the horns of a cuckold (a man whose wife is unfaithful). Contemporary viewers would also have identified his low brow as an indicator of an unintelligent and brutish character – perhaps a subtle signal that this is not his plot, but that of his scheming lover.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Messalina and her Companion' 1895

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Messalina and her Companion
1895
Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper
Tate. Presented by A.L. Assheton 1928

 

 

Messalina was the third wife of the Roman Emperor, Claudius I, and a shrewd political strategist. Yet historically she has been portrayed entirely in terms of her sexuality, either as a woman with no control over her desires or as a ruthless courtier using sex to achieve her goals. In his Sixth Satire, Juvenal perpetuated the myth that she secretly volunteered in a brothel. In this, Beardsley’s first depiction of the empress, he shows her disguised in a blonde wig and hooded cloak as she goes on one of her nightly visits. It was rejected from The Yellow Book as too daring.

 

 

Epilogue

After a wild spur-of-the-moment trip to Brussels in the spring of 1896, Beardsley suffered a much more severe haemorrhage of the lung from which he never fully recovered. Painfully aware of his own mortality, he moved from place to place in search of the ‘healthier’ air his doctors advised. Though the advance of his condition was relentless, with each change of location came new inspiration. His final years are characterised by a pattern of enthusiastically taking up new projects only to grow tired and abandon them. While his focus and energy gradually diminished, his late works show that his ambition, intellect, imagination and technical power did not.

Beardsley died in Menton in the south of France on 16 March 1898. He was 25 years old. As his friend Robert Ross commented: ‘there need be no sorrow for an “inheritor of unfulfilled renown.” Old age is no more a necessary complement to the realisation of genius than premature death. Within six years… he produced masterpieces he might have repeated but never surpassed.’

 

William Rothenstein (English, 1872-1945) 'Aubrey Beardsley' 1897

 

William Rothenstein (English, 1872-1945)
Aubrey Beardsley
1897 (published 1899)
Lithograph on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

This sensitive portrait of Beardsley was drawn by Rothenstein, one of his closest friends. It was probably done while Beardsley was in Paris in April 1897. The city – with its promenades, shops and cafés – raised his spirits and temporarily revived his health.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Volpone Adoring his Treasure' 1898

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Volpone Adoring his Treasure
1898
Ink over graphite on paper
Aubrey Beardsley Collection, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

 

 

Beardsley’s final project was to illustrate Ben Jonson’s 17th-century play, Volpone or the Foxe. He had originally planned a sequence of 24 illustrations but died before the project was completed. This picture of Volpone worshipping at the altar of his wealth is a testament to Beardsley’s technical skill. Evoking 17th-century engravings, the drawing balances intricate linework with curving forms and blocks of white space. This was to be his last great drawing. It poignantly shows that Beardsley’s imagination and stylistic development continued even as his health was declining.

 

Monsieur Abel. 'Aubrey Beardsley in the room in which he died, Hôtel Cosmopolitain, Menton' 1897

 

Monsieur Abel
Aubrey Beardsley in the room in which he died, Hôtel Cosmopolitain, Menton
1897
Photograph, collodion printing-out paper print on paper
National Portrait Gallery, London

 

 

This photograph is the last portrait of Beardsley before his death. Despite his poor health, he is still dressed elegantly and languorously posed. The walls are covered with his cherished prints by Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506). The bookshelf is lined with photographs of those he loved and admired: his mother and sister, Raffalovich and a likeness of Wagner. On his desk stands a crucifix, reflecting his recent conversion to Catholicism.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'Ali Baba' 1897

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
Ali Baba
1897
Line block print on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

This is Beardsley’s only other completed design for Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. It was made almost a year after his first drawing (shown nearby) and intended as the cover of the book. Ali Baba is shown, having discovered the cave of treasures, dripping in jewels and grown fat.

 

 

After Beardsley – The Early Years

The fall of Oscar Wilde was a blow from which the decadent artistic and literary world of the fin de siècle (‘end of century’) never fully recovered. But it was Beardsley’s death in 1898 that truly marked the end of an era. His friend Max Beerbohm caught this mood when he wrote of himself, ‘I belong to the Beardsley period’.

Beardsley’s drawings had been much imitated in his lifetime. Following his death, many young illustrators sought to step into his shoes. They worked in his style or, in some cases, made deliberate forgeries of his work. Few approached his skill as a draftsman or the rich fantasy of his imagination. Gathered here are some notable exceptions.

Collected editions of Beardsley’s drawings published after his death brought his work to an even wider audience. Alongside the illustrations to his most famous books, these included many of his drawings previously printed only in ephemeral publications. His designs proved influential for artists not only in Britain, but also throughout Europe and in Russia and Japan.

 

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868-1928) 'Poster for ‘The Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts’' 1894-6

 

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868-1928)
Poster for ‘The Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts’
1894-6
© The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

 

 

The large stylised flower held by the woman and the bold expressive lines used by Mackintosh in this poster were enough for contemporaries to make a link with Beardsley. The art dealer Alexander Reid exhibited posters and designs by Mackintosh, Beardsley and others together in his Glasgow gallery in 1895. This prompted a comparison between both artists in the press.

 

Harry Clarke 1889-1931 'The Hindu Maid' 1916

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931)
The Hindu Maid
1916
In Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales, 1st edition, George Harrap & Co, London 1916
Private collection

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931) '‘Music! Music’ cried the Emperor. ‘You little precious golden bird, sing!’' 1916

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931)
‘Music! Music’ cried the Emperor. ‘You little precious golden bird, sing!’
1916
In Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales, 1st edition, George Harrap & Co, London 1916
Private collection

 

 

The Irish artist Harry Clarke became known for his book illustrations and, later in his career, for his stained-glass windows. His illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales were his first to be published, in 1916. They reveal a close observation of Beardsley’s intricate lines, but also of his subjects. ‘Music! Music’ … in particular seems to pay homage to Beardsley’s Self-portrait in Bed, published in The Yellow Book.

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931) '‘I know what you want,’ said the Sea Witch' 1916

 

Harry Clarke (Irish, 1889-1931)
‘I know what you want,’ said the Sea Witch
1916
In Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales, 1st edition, George Harrap & Co, London 1916
Private collection
Wikipedia Commons Public domain

 

 

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12
Nov
17

Review: ‘René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films’ at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 19th August – 19th November 2017

Chief Curator: Xavier Canonne

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Flirtatiousness (La coquetterie), René Magritte at the Jardin des Plantes, photo-booth photo' 1929

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Flirtatiousness (La coquetterie), René Magritte at the Jardin des Plantes, photo-booth photo
1929
Original photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

 

Extending the possibilities of the universe

When the chicken is not an egg (and vice versa)

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They sent me 10 media images… and I could not get a handle on this exhibition. They sent me the superlative catalogue… and still I could not visualise this exhibition in my mind. Only by going and actually seeing this impressive exhibition in the beautifully refurbished spaces of Latrobe Regional Gallery do you really begin to understand its sangfroid – that Magritte’s photographs are a hyper-reality take on the mystery of the everyday, accomplished by the artist altering the very conception of what a photograph is.

Please note, I have included several juxtapositions in this posting which illuminate the pairing of photograph and small reproductions of Magritte’s painting in various sections of the exhibition for which I did not have the media images. This is because the reader can not get a good idea of the exhibition otherwise, and so I use these images under “fair use” conditions for the purposes of academic review, and to ensure that someone who cannot actually see the exhibition can begin to understand its import.

Small, often tiny photographs, usually no more than 2.5″ x 4″, are double mounted (which adds to the concentrated focus on the image) in black frames. Collectively, these images possess a certain aura and intensity while individually they exude a wonderful presence. Some photographs are toned, some not; some have irregular edges (as though cut from something else, some other fabric of time), others have deckled, wavy edges. Some photographs are cabinet cards, others carte-de-visite, or gelatin silver. Some of the photographs are so small, for example one titled The Earthquake (1942), and Dissuasion (1937) that you can hardly make out what is going on in the image. But then between these two small images is a slightly larger photograph titled The Feast of Stones (1942) where René Magritte, Paul Magritte and Marcel Mariën are eating bricks! There are portraits of friends and wives, there are serendipitous photographs or, more often, elaborately staged performances for the camera. They form an impressive body (which isn’t a body) in the gallery space.

Throughout the gallery some of the small photographs are printed large on canvas and these add a vital counterpoint for the eye, amongst the ocean of small images. Further, the exhibition then “…assists the viewer in connecting the images with Magritte’s art by hanging alongside small reproductions of key paintings framed in gilt baroque frames.” Small reproductions of some of Magritte’s paintings are housed in elaborate, wide, heavy gold frames hung between some of the small photographs, but the reproductions are poor and the elaborateness of the frames quite overrides the reproductions themselves. This is a jarring note in an otherwise excellent exhibition. The scale of the reproductions sets up a correlation between the physicality of the small photographs and that of the paintings which in reality does not exist. The paintings are much bigger and their surface texture – their flattened almost non-existent brushstrokes – are totally lacking in the reproductions. While there are only two Magritte paintings in institutional collections in Australia (The Lovers (1928) at the National Gallery of Australia and In praise of dialectics (1937) at the National Gallery of Victoria), this exhibition cried out for at least a couple of “real” Magritte paintings amongst the photographs, so that the difference and similarities of aura and physicality could be compared between the two. Whether a loan of both paintings was too expensive in terms of insurance and security I am unsure, but they needed to be there.

One of the first juxtapositions in the exhibition is a reproduction of Magritte’s painting The Lovers (1928) which is sequenced with his photograph, The Bouquet (1937) and a still from Sergei Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin (1925) in which sailors, comrades all, are covered in a tarpaulin and just about to be shot. While most juxtapositions of photograph and painting in the exhibition illuminate the symbiotic relationship that existed between both (did the photograph influence the painting or was it the other way round? when the photograph exists as an art work in its own right but challenges through a twisting of reality the very notion of a documentary photography, are the chicken and the egg, the painting and the photograph, existentially linked?), this initial juxtaposition seems a little forced. Indeed, in the excellent beautifully produced catalogue the principal curator (Xavier Canonne), notes that the juxtapositions, “… are suppositions based on an interplay of analogies. If Magritte was aware of them, he would no doubt have rejected them, preferring to see them as fortuitous coincidences. It nonetheless remains that the universe of the mind is full of borrowings whose origin often remains unsuspected; exemplars buried in memory crop back up and recompose themselves through association.” Perhaps this was not the best example to begin the exhibition, with a painting of two people attempting to kiss each other through their grey cloth linked to comrades about to get shot.

After the grounding of the first two tranches of photographs, ‘A family album’ and ‘A family resemblance’, the exhibition takes flight with the remaining sections of the exhibition, beginning with the section ‘Resembling a painter’ in which the staged photographs “show how Magritte often tended to parody his work as a painter.” Here Magritte’s painting Attempting the Impossible (1928) is sequenced with a photograph of Magritte painting Attempting the Impossible (1928) and the photograph Love (1928) in which the artist pretends to paint his wife “in the flesh”, only this time she is clothed. As Xavier Canonne observes, “The painter permanently questioned reality, playing on its possibilities…” and the photographs do just that, resulting in “a different way of conceiving of photography, without trick shots or manipulation, of offering… a multiplying effect, an extension of what would otherwise have been merely a documentary image. Beyond the mise-en-abyme implemented by the interplay of the painting and its ‘model’, this photograph goes beyond the notion of document to lay claim to that of an intrinsic work.”

An example of this is Jacqueline Nonkels supervised, staged, photograph Rene Magritte painting Clairvoyance 4th October 1936 depicts Magritte painting Clairvoyance only for the painting to repeat the gesture of him painting in the photograph. Go figure – literally! Next to the small photograph is a reproduction of the painting Clairvoyance (1936) and Canonne observes that the self-portrait has become as much mise-en-abyme (placed into abyss: the visual experience of standing between two mirrors, then seeing as a result an infinite reproduction of one’s image; or the Droste effect, in which a picture appears within itself, in a place where a similar picture would realistically be expected to appear) as anything else. By subverting the documentary reality of photography it becomes something else and in so doing, becomes an intrinsic work in its own right. This transformative representation can happen within one image, or in a sequence of images, such as the pairing of the three forms of Love: the photograph Love; René Magritte painting ‘Attempting the Impossible’; and the painting Attempting the Impossible (all 1928, below). Other examples in different sections throughout the exhibition include The Oblivion Seller (1936), a small photograph from 1937 which is sequenced next to a reproduction of Magritte’s painting of his wife, Georgette (1937); or the photograph Rene Magritte and The Barbarian (1938) which is sequenced with The Flame Rekindled (1943) and a still from Ernst Moerman’s surrealist film Monsieur Fantômas (1937).

I feel that these tiny, tiny portraits are about extending the possibilities of the image through the joy of living. To play, to have fun with friends, to travel to places, to talk about ideas, about art and love and life, to debate the titles of images and paintings with comrades. In this regard, the interwar period and the avant-garde was immensely creative in terms of an investigation into the multiplicities of the world. The photographs are a reality take on the mystery of the everyday, a counterpoise to the severity and austerity of Magritte’s paintings. Paraphrasing Alfred Gell, who was recently quoted by Zara Stanhope in an essay on the cultural agency of photographs, I believe that not only do works of art “have the power to act and to influence others”1 they also have the power to act and influence each other through human agency. The production and titling of Magritte’s paintings and photographs was a collective and transformative process (undertaken with his group of friends), part of a reflective process that articulated the material conditions of a given situation (in this case, the Belgian Surrealist movement), in which the paintings and the photographs extend the possibility of being through an engagement with each other. For example, in The Death of Ghosts (1928) you really really have to look to try and understand what is going on within the picture frame. Even then, you wonder what is going on… the movement of the image, the darkness, the person lying in the background which is then linked to the painting The Apparition (1928) which uses the same silhouette of the figure, a trope that Magritte often uses when switching from photograph to canvas.

Throughout this wonderful exhibition you begin to formulate ideas as to how, firstly, the photograph is used as source material for Magritte’s art, as in the photograph for the painting Universal Gravitation (1943) where a man puts his hand through a wall (or is it the other way around, where the painting informs the photograph?) and, secondly, how the photograph is not used as a source material, but renegotiates the spatio-temporal dimensionality of the paintings. And becomes a new art work that stands by itself. And then you have to factor in the moving image: the sensibility of film, that movable feast of magic and masks, smoke and mirrors. By placing models, friends and paintings in the same photograph, Magritte’s images conflate time and space and ultimately challenge the concept of photography as a memory aid.

Finally, there is so much mystery pres(t)aged within these photographs (the titles further compounding the dissolution of reality), that the already fragile grasp of the referentiality of the image is shattered. Go travel and see this exhibition, for it was a true pleasure to spend a variable amount of time in their intimate, visceral, and intellectual, embrace.

Marcus

Word count: 1,715

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Many thankx to Latrobe Regional Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Alfred Gell cited in Stanhope, Zara. “Photography in Focus,” in McColm, Donna (ed.,). “Love from Paris,” National Gallery of Victoria magazine. Melbourne: September/October 2017, p. 50.

 

The Surrealists made abundant use of photography, and some even devoted themselves to it entirely. But Magritte never considered himself a ‘photographer’ – he reserved this practice for special moments and specific uses: family photos; models for paintings and advertising work; photos of paintings in progress; and scenes improvised with friends, similar to the skits he later filmed with a home movie camera. Nevertheless, Magritte’s photographs and films are closely related to his paintings and demonstrate a similar method in their grasp on reality. Far from being merely entertaining occasional images, they shed a familiar light on the painter’s thought and evidence the same investigation of the mysteries of the world.

 

 

“My paintings are … visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, ‘What does that mean?’. It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.”

.
René Magritte

 

“For me, art is the means of evoking mystery… the mystery is the supreme thing. It’s reassuring to know that there’s mystery – to know that there is more than what one knows.”

.
René Magritte

 

“This triumphant poetry replaced the stereotyped effect of traditional painting. It is a complete rupture with the mental habits of artists imprisoned by talent, virtuosity and all the little aesthetic specialities. It is a new vision where viewers find their isolation and the silence of the world.”

“One rarely looks at images with the naked eye; a psychology, an aesthetic, a philosophy interpose themselves all in one; everything goes up in smoke. We question images before listening to them, we question them indiscriminately. Then we are surprised if the expected answer does not come.” (1944)

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Paul Nougé

 

“Magritte’s art used images as a poet might use words; that is, in ways that new meanings, unnoticed harmonies, curious insights, subtle inflections and penetrating observations might be made. As with good poetry, they are not must made as ‘interesting’ asides, but create to feature as instances of heightened states of mind. Furthermore, like good poetry, Magritte’s images in painting, drawings, prints, films and photography have uplift. They promote thought and have an aesthetic punch that dislodges the all-too-common anaesthesia of incurious everyday life.”

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Associate Professor Ken Wach. “René Magritte: Art as a Mental Act” in René Magritte: A Guide to René Magritte, Latrobe Regional Gallery, 2017, p. 13

 

 

'René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films' poster

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation views of the exhibition René Magritte: The Revealing Image at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery
Installation photography by Benjamin Hosking

 

“And although it may not refer to a specific painting, Virtue Rewarded, a photograph taken in Brussels in 1934, preserves Magritte’s iconography for all time with a silhouette – the painter himself – in a hat and long coat in front of a suburban landscape, the recurring image of the anonymous man in Magritte’s world.” ~ Xavier Canonne

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Virtue Rewarded' 1934

 

Unknown photographer
Virtue Rewarded
1934, Brussels
Original photograph

 

 

Introduction from the book

“The discovery of the photographs and films of René Magritte in the mid-1970s, more than 10 years after the painter’s death, and their subsequent appraisal and study have given us a look into a family album that reveals an intimate side of Magritte, independent of the biographical documents unearthed from his archives and those of people he was close to. This discovery has also led to an investigation of Magritte’s relationship with these ‘other images’, for which he served as creator, director and model, and of his relationship with the mediums of photography and cinema, to which, in his experience as a painter, he assigned a role of both recreation and creation.” ~ Xavier Canonne.

 

Description of the exhibition

The exhibition René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films consists of 132 original photographs from the archives of the painter and those closest to him, presented in six sections, and eight self-made films. The photographs are organised thematically, eschewing strict chronology, each section introduced by a text, the individual photographs including a caption and a comment. They are accompanied by enlargements in the form of posters and, depending on the section, by reproductions of Magritte’s paintings or films, or by films which made an impression on him.

A Family Album

The photographs in this section, arranged chronologically, are devoted to Magritte’s family life. Snaps taken with his parents and brothers, his military service, the early years of his marriage to Georgette, their period of residence at Perreux-sur-Marne near Paris, their life in Brussels – all revealing the daily life of René Magritte.

A Family Resemblance

Organised chronologically, this section brings together photographs representing René Magritte’s other “family”, the Brussels Surrealist group with which the painter threw in his lot in 1926. Paul Nougé, Marcel Lecomte, Louis Scutenaire, Irène Hamoir, Paul Colinet, Marcel Mariën, Camille Goemans and Marthe Beauvoisin are some of the characters who feature in these compositions, in many cases improvised “photographic tableaux” bearing witness to the intimate relationship between René Magritte and his immediate circle.

The Resemblance of Painting

This third section of the exhibition consists of photographs of René Magritte at his easel, covering the years from 1917 to 1965. They show the painter with works from different periods, taken impromptu or posing, generally in a suit, in the succession of houses where he never established a workshop, preferring to paint in his living-room. Working documents or “staged” photographs, they show how Magritte often tended to parody his work as a painter.

Reproduction Permitted or Photography Enhanced

This section of the exhibition comprises paintings by Magritte placed on his easel or forming the background of portraits of him and his wife. Essential paintings, some of which have been lost, provide the painter with a stage set into which he projects himself with his wife, going beyond documentary photography.

This section also includes a series of photographs which served as models for his paintings, featuring Georgette and René Magritte, Louis Scutenaire and various close friends – photographs directly connected with his works, which are presented in the form of reproductions. Magritte used the same procedure in the short films he made between 1940 and 1960, and extracts in television format or reproductions are shown alongside the original photographs.

The Imitation of Photography. Magritte and the Cinema[tograph]

The cinema, more even than painting and to the same extent as literature, was a seminal influence of the work of René Magritte. As a child, he had been exposed to the first silent films and he tried to recreate their freshness and spontaneity in the short films he made, featuring his close friends. Magritte may still be posing in this section, but the emphasis is on entertainment.

This section of the exhibition is accompanied by extracts from his own films, presented on the TV screens, and by images from films by directors he admired, such as Louis Feuillade with his celebrated Fantômas.

The False Mirror

This title of a celebrated painting by René Magritte opens the final section of the exhibition. Consisting essentially of portraits of Magritte at different stages of his life, they sometimes depict him in dreamy mood, sometimes expressing amusement, generally with his eyes closed, focused inwards. The section also includes photographs in which the painter and his friends mask their faces or turn away from the camera lens, prolonging in photographic mode his painterly research on the caché-visible (things hidden in plain sight).

 

Section 1: A Family Album

The photographs in this section, arranged chronologically, are devoted to Magritte’s family life. Snaps taken with his parents and brothers, his military service, the early years of his marriage to Georgette, their period of residence at Perreux-sur-Marne near Paris, their life in Brussels – all revealing the daily life of René Magritte.

 

Unknown photographer. 'Georgette and René Magritte, Brussels, June 1922' 1922

 

Unknown photographer
Georgette and René Magritte, Brussels, June 1922 [on their wedding day]
1922
Original photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition René Magritte: The Revealing Image at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery with at left, Régina Bertinchamps, René Magritte’s mother by an unknown photograper, Nd; and at right, Léopold Magritte and Régina Bertinchamps, Lessines, 1898 also by an unknown photographer.

 

René Magritte (Belgium 1898-1967) 'Les Amants [The lovers]' 1928

 

René Magritte (Belgium 1898-1967)
Les Amants [The lovers]
1928
Oil on canvas
Collection of Richard S. Zeisler, New York

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 

This is one of a small group of pictures painted by Magritte in Paris in 1927-28, in which the identity of the figures is mysteriously shrouded in white cloth. The group of paintings includes L’histoire centrale (The central story) 1927 (collection Isy Brachot, Brussels); L’invention de la vie (The invention of life) 1927-28 (private collection, Brussels); The lovers 1928 in the Australian National Gallery; and the similarly titled, similarly dated and similarly sized painting in the collection of Richard S. Zeisler, New York, in which the same shrouded heads of a man and a woman that appear in the Gallery’s painting attempt to kiss each other through their grey cloth integuments.

The origin of this disturbing image has been attributed to various sources in Magritte’s imagination. Like many of his Surrealist associates, Magritte was fascinated by ‘Fantômas’, the shadowy hero of the thriller series which first appeared in novel form in 1913, and shortly after in films made by Louis Feuillade. The identity of ‘Fantômas’ is never revealed; he appears in the films disguised with a cloth or stocking over his head. Another source for the shrouded heads in Magritte’s paintings has been suggested in the memory of his mother’s apparent suicide. In 1912, when Magritte was only thirteen years of age, his mother was found drowned in the river Sambre; when her body was recovered from the river, her nightdress was supposedly wrapped around her head.

Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond. European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.173.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Bouquet (Le Bouquet), Georgette and René Magritte, Rue Esseghem, Brussels' 1937

 

Unknown photographer
The Bouquet (Le Bouquet), Georgette and René Magritte, Rue Esseghem, Brussels
1937
Original Photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

 

Section 2: A Family Resemblance

Organised chronologically, this section brings together photographs representing René Magritte’s other “family”, the Brussels Surrealist group with which the painter threw in his lot in 1926. Paul Nougé, Marcel Lecomte, Louis Scutenaire, Irène Hamoir, Paul Colinet, Marcel Mariën, Camille Goemans and Marthe Beauvoisin are some of the characters who feature in these compositions, in many cases improvised “photographic tableaux” bearing witness to the intimate relationship between René Magritte and his immediate circle.

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Hunters' Gathering (La rendez-vous de chase)' 1934

 

Unknown photographer
The Hunters’ Gathering (La rendez-vous de chase)
1934
Original photograph
27 x 33 cm (framed)
Collection Charly Herscovici, Europe

Left to right: E.L.T Mesens, René Magritte, Louis Scutenaier, André Souris and Paul Nougé
Seated: Iréne Hamoir, Marthe Beauvoisin and Georgette Magritte. Studio Joe Rentmeesters

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'René Magritte: The Revealing Image' at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

 

Installation view of the exhibition René Magritte: The Revealing Image at the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery with at left, René Magritte’s The Correspondance Group, 1928 (Paul Nougé, Marcel Lecomte and Camille Goemans), paired with René Magritte’s Portrait of Paul Nougé, 1927 at right.

 

René Magritte (Belgium 1898-1967) 'Portrait of Paul Nougé' 1927

 

René Magritte (Belgium 1898-1967)
Portrait of Paul Nougé
1927
Oil on canvas

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Extraterresterials V' (detail) 1935

 

Unknown photographer
The Extraterresterials V (detail)
1935, Brussels, Rue Esseghem

Left to right: Paul Colinet, Marcel Lecomte, Georgette and René Magritte

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Unknown photographer. 'Saluting the Flag' 1935

 

Unknown photographer
Saluting the Flag
1935, Koksijde
Original photograph

Left to right: Paul Colinet, René Magritte, Louis Scutenaire, Paul Nougé, and Paul Magritte

 

 

Section 3: The Resemblance of Painting

This third section of the exhibition consists of photographs of René Magritte at his easel, covering the years from 1917 to 1965. They show the painter with works from different periods, taken impromptu or posing, generally in a suit, in the succession of houses where he never established a workshop, preferring to paint in his living-room. Working documents or “staged” photographs, they show how Magritte often tended to parody his work as a painter.

 

Unknown photographer. 'René Magritte painting The Empty Mask (Le masque vide), Le Perreuxsur-Marne' 1928

 

Unknown photographer
René Magritte painting The Empty Mask (Le masque vide), Le Perreux-sur-Marne
1928
Original photograph
32 x 38 cm (framed)
Collection Charly Herscovici, Europe

 

Unknown photographer. 'Love' 1928

 

Unknown photographer
Love
1928, Le Perreux-sur-Marne
Study for Attempting the Impossible
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Unknown photographer. 'René Magritte painting 'Attempting the Impossible'' 1928

 

Unknown photographer
René Magritte painting ‘Attempting the Impossible’
1928, Le Perreux-sur-Marne
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Attempting the Impossible' 1928

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Attempting the Impossible
1928
Oil on canvas

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Jacqueline Nonkels. 'René Magritte painting 'Clairvoyance'' Brussels, 4 October 1936

 

Jacqueline Nonkels
René Magritte painting ‘Clairvoyance’
Brussels, 4 October 1936
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Clairvoyance' 1936

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Clairvoyance
1936
Oil on canvas

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 

Magritte has set up his easel in the small courtyard leading to the garden on Rue Essenghem. On it sits a completed painting, Clairvoyance, which represents Magritte seated in front of a canvas, brush in hand, his face turned towards an egg resting on a table covered with a tablecloth to his left. But the painted image in this photographic model is a bird with spread wings. Magritte, in a perfect imitation – suit, palette, haircut and chair – is in turn seated in front of he painting, pretending to paint. The photograph, taken on 4 October 1936 by young Jacqueline Nonkels according to instructions and staging established by Magritte, seems as much self-portrait as mise-en-abyme. It is the result of a different way of conceiving of photography, without trick shots or manipulation, of offering… a multiplying effect, an extension of what would otherwise have been merely a documentary image. Beyond the mise-en-abyme implemented by the interplay of the painting and its ‘model’, this photograph goes beyond the notion of document to lay claim to that of an intrinsic work.

Xavier Canonne. “The Resemblance of Painting,” in René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films. LaTrobe Regional Gallery, 2017, p. 72.

 

Section 4: Reproduction Permitted or Photography Enhanced

This section of the exhibition comprises paintings by Magritte placed on his easel or forming the background of portraits of him and his wife. Essential paintings, some of which have been lost, provide the painter with a stage set into which he projects himself with his wife, going beyond documentary photography.

This section also includes a series of photographs which served as models for his paintings, featuring Georgette and René Magritte, Louis Scutenaire and various close friends – photographs directly connected with his works, which are presented in the form of reproductions. Magritte used the same procedure in the short films he made between 1940 and 1960, and extracts in television format or reproductions are shown alongside the original photographs.

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Holy Family' 1928

 

Unknown photographer
The Holy Family
1928, Le Perreux-sur-Marne
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 

“Magritte’s photographs attest to a form of improvisation, offering a compromise between a portrait of those around him and the reproduction of his own painting by somehow effecting their merger: The Holy Family shows the painter and his wife sitting on either side of the painting The Windows of Dawn (1928), with The Obsession (1928) placed on the easel above them.”

Xavier Canonne. “Reproduction permitted or photography enhanced,” in René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films. LaTrobe Regional Gallery, 2017, p. 98.

 

Paul Nougé (1895-1967) 'The Seers' c. 1930

 

Paul Nougé (1895-1967)
The Seers
c. 1930
Marthe Beauvoisin and Georgette Magritte

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Shadow and Its Shadow (L'ombre et son ombre), Georgette and René Magritte, Brussels' 1932

 

Paul Nougé attributed (1895-1967)
The Shadow and Its Shadow (L’ombre et son ombre)
1932, Brussels
Georgette and René Magritte
Original photograph
41.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

“The Shadow and Its Shadow is indeed a photographic painting, an autonomous work that Magritte could also have transferred to canvas in treating the theme of the ‘hidden-invisible’.” ~ Xavier Canonne

 

René Magritte. 'Faraway looks' c. 1927

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Faraway looks
c. 1927
Oil on canvas

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Oblivion Seller '1936

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Oblivion Seller (detail)
1936
Georgette Magritte
Original photograph
Cover image for the catalogue to the exhibition

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Georgette' 1937

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Georgette
1937
Oil on canvas
Museé Magritte, Brussels

Painting not in exhibition but reproduced in catalogue
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 

“Taken on the Belgian Coast in 1936, The Oblivion Seller (as Scutenaire aptly named it) shows a spontaneity and opportuneness completed in the mind of the painter, who often represented himself with his eyes closed, as if lost in thought. The ‘deflection’ of his snapshot of a happy moment – woman one loves at the beach on holiday – seems to prefigure certain later paintings, the nearest of which chronologically is Georgette (1937), an oval portrait that she kept her whole life… The painter permanently questioned reality, playing on its possibilities, assigning objects and beings a similar presence on film or canvas, the ‘default scene’ never quite satisfying him.”

Xavier Canonne. “Reproduction permitted or photography enhanced,” in René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films. LaTrobe Regional Gallery, 2017, p. 106.

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Universal Gravitation' 1943

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Universal Gravitation
1943
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Painting reproduced in exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Destroyer' 1943

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Destroyer
1943
Louis Scutenaire
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Healer' 1937

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Healer
1937
Oil on canvas
René Magritte/ Charly Herscovici c/o SABAM

Painting not in exhibition but reproduced in catalogue
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'God, The Eighth Day' 1937

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
God, The Eighth Day
1937
Brussels, Rue Essenghem
Original photograph
René Magritte/ Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Death of Ghosts' 1928

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Death of Ghosts
1928, Le Perreux-sur-Marne
Jacqueline Celcourt-Nonkels and René Magritte
René Magritte/ Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

“Although the silhouette of a man (probably Magritte) in The Death of Ghosts (1928) appears in the painting The Apparition (1928), other photos differ from the final painting, or were in turn inspired by it, the exact chronological sequence in these cases being less certain.” ~ Xavier Canonne

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Apparition' 1928

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Apparition
1928
Oil on canvas
Staatsgalerie, Stutgart
René Magritte/ Charly Herscovici c/o SABAM

Painting reproduced in exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Queen Semiramis (La reine Sémiramis)' 1947

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Queen Semiramis (La reine Sémiramis)
1947, Brussels
Original photograph
41.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Perfect Harmony' 1947

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
Perfect Harmony
1947
Oil on canvas
René Magritte/ Charly Herscovici c/o SABAM

Painting not in exhibition but reproduced in catalogue
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Meeting (Le Rendez-vous), Brussels' 1938

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Meeting (Le Rendez-vous)
1938, Brussels
Original photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

 

René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films is a world-first exhibition which provides stunning insight into the life, work and thinking of René Magritte, one of the world’s most important 20th Century artists. The exhibition, to be held at Latrobe Regional Galley in Morwell, Victoria, Australia from 19 August to 19 November 2017, features 130 original photographs by and of Magritte, his family, friends and fellow artists. It also includes eight self-made films which give a behind-the-scenes view of Magritte’s world. This exhibition, staged in collaboration with the Magritte Foundation Belgium. René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films, marks the 50th anniversary of the Belgian Surrealist’s death. After its world-premiere in Morwell, René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films will travel to Hong Kong, North and South America, and back to Europe.

Latrobe Regional Galley director Dr Mark Themann said René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films was an opportunity to experience an amazing assembly of intimate and insightful photographs and films, many of which have never been exhibited previously. “Magritte had a unique creative ability to enchant. He used the ordinary and the everyday to evoke the mysterious and to question our perceptions of reality,” Dr Themann said. “He is an iconic artist, whose influence on fellow artists, designers, film directors and visual culture continues to this day. It’s a magnificent opportunity to present this major international exhibition in our newly-renovated Latrobe Regional Galley in Morwell. We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors from the local region, around Australia, and the world.”

Exhibition Chief Curator Xavier Canonne said the discovery of the photographs and films of René Magritte in the mid-1970s, 10 years after the painter’s death, and their subsequent appraisal and study, had given us an even greater appreciation of Magritte as an artist. “There are a lot of connections between Magritte’s photos and films, and his famous paintings,” Mr Canonne said. “Magritte was deeply interested by the possibilities of the image. The photos and films were used as models or documents for his paintings, and as experimental fields for his research, in order to find something more – to extend the possibilities of his universe. Through this exhibition we gain a greater sense and understanding of who Magritte was, how this informed his work, and why his art is so important.”

In conjunction with the opening of René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films a book on the exhibition by Mr Canonne has been published by Ludion, distributed globally by Thames & Hudson.

Press release from the Latrobe Regional Art Gallery

 

Section 5: The Imitation of Photography. Magritte and the Cinema[tograph]

The cinema, more even than painting and to the same extent as literature, was a seminal influence of the work of René Magritte. As a child, he had been exposed to the first silent films and he tried to recreate their freshness and spontaneity in the short films he made, featuring his close friends. Magritte may still be posing in this section, but the emphasis is on entertainment.

This section of the exhibition is accompanied by extracts from his own films, presented on the TV screens, and by images from films by directors he admired, such as Louis Feuillade with his celebrated Fantômas.

 

Unknown photographer. 'René Magritte and The Barbarian (Le Barbare)' 1938

 

Unknown photographer
René Magritte and The Barbarian (Le Barbare), London Gallery, London
1938
Original photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Flame Rekindled' 1943

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Flame Rekindled
1943
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Reproduction in the exhibition
Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Ernst Moerman. 'Monsieur Fantômas' 1937 (film still)

 

Ernst Moerman
Monsieur Fantômas
1937
Film still

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

 

“These examples are suppositions based on an interplay of analogies. If Magritte was aware of them, he would no doubt have rejected them, preferring to see them as fortuitous coincidences. It nonetheless remains that the universe of the mind is full of borrowings whose origin often remains unsuspected; exemplars buried in memory crop back up and recompose themselves through association. It is more an atmosphere that is evoked here, in particular that of the silent movies, with a power of images that impressed the painter move than photographs, at a time when the silver screen, this mysterious wellspring, was as much a source of this power as the mirror.”

Xavier Canonne. “The imitation of photography. Magritte and the cinema[tograph],” in René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films. LaTrobe Regional Gallery, 2017, p. 126.

 

Unknown photographer. 'On the Road to Texas' 1942

 

Unknown photographer
On the Road to Texas
1942, Brussels

Left to right: Agui Ubac, Irène Hamoir, Louis Scutenaire, Jacqueline Nonkels, Georgette and René Magritte

 

 

René Magritte – surrealistic home movie
Nd

Not in the exhibition

 

 

René Magritte: The Revealing Image, Photos and Films promotional video

 

 

Louis Feuillade (1873 – 1925)
Fantômas
1913

Not in the exhibition

 

 

Louis Feuillade (1873 – 1925) was a prolific and prominent French film director from the silent era. Between 1906 and 1924 he directed over 630 films. He is primarily known for the serials FantômasLes Vampires and Judex.

The Fantômas serial in 1913 was his first masterpiece, the result of a long apprenticeship – during which the series with realistic ambitions, Life as it is, played a major role. It is also the first masterpiece in what the modern critic, from both a literary and a cinematographic point of view, would later call “the fantastic realism” or the “social fantastic”. He is credited with developing many of the thriller techniques used famously by Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, and others.

The series consists of five episodes, each an hour to an hour and a half in length, which end in cliffhangers, i.e., episodes one and three end with Fantômas making a last-minute escape, the end of the second entry has Fantômas blowing up Lady Beltham’s manor house with Juve and Fandor, the two heroes, still inside. The subsequent episodes begin with a recap of the story that has gone before. Each film is further divided into three or more chapters that do not end in cliffhangers.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

The False Mirror

This title of a celebrated painting by René Magritte opens the final section of the exhibition. Consisting essentially of portraits of Magritte at different stages of his life, they sometimes depict him in dreamy mood, sometimes expressing amusement, generally with his eyes closed, focused inwards. The section also includes photographs in which the painter and his friends mask their faces or turn away from the camera lens, prolonging in photographic mode his painterly research on the caché-visible (things hidden in plain sight).

 

Unknown photographer. 'René Magritte' 1930

 

Unknown photographer
René Magritte
1930
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Eminence Grise' 1938

 

Unknown photographer
The Eminence Grise
1938
René Magritte on the Belgian coast
Original photograph

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

“Again at the Belgian Coast in 1938, by now in keeping with an established ritual, Magritte, having hooked an open book to the straps of his bathing suit, turns aways from the camera (The Eminence Grise).” ~ Xavier Canonne

Éminence grise: a person who exercises power or influence in a certain sphere without holding an official position.

 

Unknown photographer. 'The Gladness of the Day' August 1935

 

Unknown photographer
The Gladness of the Day
August 1935, Lessines
Original photograph
Georgette Magritte, Louis Scutenaire, René Magritte

Published under “fair use” for the purposes of academic review

 

René Magritte (1898-1967) 'The Giant (Le Géant), Paul Nougé on the Belgian Coast' 1937

 

René Magritte (1898-1967)
The Giant (Le Géant), Paul Nougé on the Belgian Coast
1937
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels
Original photograph
41.2 x 33.2 cm (framed)

 

 

“Paul Nougé shields his face behind a chessboard, forcing the viewer to concentrate on the details of his clothing and the pipe he holds in his hand. Scutenaire entitled this photo The Giant, an apt title for the antiportrait of the man who was the soul of the Brussels Surrealist group and never stopped calling for a self-effacement that favoured maximum freedom.” ~ Xavier Canonne

 

Paul Nougé (1895-1967), was a Belgian poet, founder and theoretician of surrealism in Belgium, sometimes known as the “Belgian Breton”. …

In November 1924 he created the journal “Correspondance”, which published 26 pamphlets up to September 1925, in collaboration with Camille Goemans and Marcel Lecomte. In July 1925 he was expelled from the party. That same year Nougé met the French surrealists, Louis Aragon, André Breton and Paul Éluard, and together they signed the tract “La Révolution d’abord et toujours” (The Revolution First and Forever), and made the acquaintance of Louis Scutenaire in 1926. September of that same year marked the drafting of the constitution of the Belgian Surrealist Group that comprised Nougé, Goemans, René Magritte, E. L. T. Mesens and André Souris.

In 1927 Nougé composed plagiarised examples of a grammar book of Clarisse Juranville, illustrated with 5 drawings by Magritte. In 1928 he founded the magazine “Distances” and wrote the poem catalogue of a fur trader that was illustrated by Magritte entitled “Le catalogue Samuel” (re-edited by Didier Devillez, Brussels, 1996). He also wrote the preface of a Magritte exhibition at the gallery “L’époque” (signed by his ‘accomplices’ Goemans, Mesens, Lecomte, Scutenaire and Souris) and delivered in January 1929 to Charleroi – a conference on the accompanying music to a concert conducted by Souris and an exhibition of Magritte (“La conférence de Charleroi”, published in 1946). Between December 1929 and February 1930 Nougé created 19 photographs, unpublished until 1968, under the title “Subversion des images”. These photographs have been displayed notably, and most recently, at the Edinburgh Art Festival 2009. In 1931 he wrote the preface to an exhibition which followed the return of Magritte to Brussels. Extracts from “Images défendues” were published in 1933 in issue number 5 of “Surréalisme au service de la Révolution”. In 1934 Nougé co-signed “L’action immédiate” in “Documents 34”, edited by Mesens. In 1935 “Le Couteau dans la plaie” (‘The Knife in the Wound’) was published and in 1936, René Magritte ou la révélation objective was published in “Les Beaux-Arts” in Brussels. In that same year, Nougé, along with Mesens, organised the exclusion of Souris from the group.

Nougé was mobilised in 1939 in Mérignac then Biarritz, during World War II, as a military nurse. In 1941 Nougé prefaced an exhibition, quickly closed by the occupying forces, of photographs by Raoul Ubac in Brussels L’expérience souveraine (The Sovereign Experience). In 1943 he published the complete text of René Magritte ou Les images défendues. In January 1944, under the pseudonym of Paul Lecharantais, he prefaced a new exhibition of Magritte that was criticised by the collaborators of nazism. In 1945 Nougé participated in the exhibition “Surréalisme” organised by the Editions La Boétie de Bruxelles gallery. In 1946 he published La Conférence de Charleroi and, under the title Élémentaires a preface for the exhibition of Magritte “Le Surréalisme en Plein Soleil” (Surrealism in Full Sunlight) at the Dietrich gallery.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Shunk Kender. 'René Magritte and The Likeness (La Resemblance)' about 1962

 

Shunk Kender (Harry Shunk and Janos Kender)
René Magritte and The Likeness (La Resemblance) 
(from The Eternally Obvious)
about 1962
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels
Original photograph
41.2 x 33.2 cm

 

 

“And in the living room on Rue des Mimosas, for the photographer Skunk Kender, Magritte traded his face for a panel from The Eternally Obvious (1954), replacing his features with those of a woman’s face, here again accomplishing the transmutation of a painting by a photograph: the painter substitutes his silhouette in a three-piece suit for the fragmented woman’s body in the original painting and disappears behind his work.” ~ Xavier Canonne

 

Shunk-Kender

The photographers Harry Shunk (German, 1924-2006) and János Kender (Hungarian, 1937-2009) worked together under the name Shunk-Kender from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, based first in Paris and then in New York. Shunk-Kender photographed artworks, events, and landmark exhibitions of avant-garde movements of the era, from Nouveau réalisme to Earth art. They were connected with a vibrant art scene that they captured through portraits of artists and participated in through collaborative projects.

The roles played by the duo varied from one project to the next. In some cases, Shunk-Kender worked as documentarians, photographing Happenings and performances; in other instances, they were collaborators, acting alongside other artists to realise works of art through photography. (Text from the MoMA website)

 

Shunk Kender. 'René Magritte in front of Le sens de réalité' 1960

 

Shunk Kender (Harry Shunk and Janos Kender)
René Magritte in front of ‘Le sens de réalité’
1960
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels
Original photograph
43.2 x 33.2 cm

 

 

Latrobe Regional Art Gallery
138 Commercial Road
Morwell, Victoria 3840
Australia

Opening Hours
10am – 5pm Monday to Friday
11am – 4pm Saturday and Sunday

Latrobe Regional Art Gallery website

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09
Dec
10

Exhibition: ‘Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 10th December 2010 – 10th April 2011

 

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine' at the National Gallery of Victoria installation photograph

 

Woman looking at Gustave Moreau’s Jupiter and Europa 1868
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

A small but perfectly formed exhibition of the works of the French Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau at the National Gallery of Victoria. The delight is in the detail: the dark, intense neo-classical paintings on biblical and mythological themes reward close scrutiny and contemplation. I purposefully chose to photograph the details at the media launch for the joys they reveal: the flashes of purple, red and turquoise paint to the right in Delilah (Nd, see below) and the almost etched quality of the columns and their symbols behind Salomé and John the Baptist’s head in The Apparition (1875, see below). Please ENLARGE the photographs by clicking on them to see the detail.

Other important events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the National Gallery of Victoria next year include major exhibitions such as ManStyle (March – October / November 2011 at both St Kilda Road and Federation Square venues) that will feature an exploration of the dandy in men’s fashion from the 18th century to the present day. I have lent the NGV a 1940s suit and tie from my collection for the exhibition so I am excited to see how they display. Also feted for next year is the major Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition Vienna: Arts & Design: Klimt, Schiele, Hoffmann, Loos (June – October 2011) as well as a large Eugene von Guérard: Nature Revealed exhibition (April – August 2011) and several photographic exhibitions including the intriguing Deep Water (April – September 2011) that will include photographs of water and its environment divided into fresh and saltwater sections.

The best news is the creation of two new contemporary exhibiting spaces – one in St Kilda Road (the old gallery that housed Greecian pottery on the ground floor) and the former restaurant next to the bookshop in the atrium of Federation Square. Both spaces will have their own entry, one off the atrium and the other off the space near the spire allowing them to be open late at night without the larger gallery being open and they will exhibition small contemporary exhibitions. An excellent proactive idea!

As always many thankx to Sue Coffey, Alison Murray, Jemma Altmeier and the media team at the NGV for their help and to the curator of the exhibition Dr Ted Gott for his friendship and erudite conversation.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria. All rights reserved. No reproduction without the permission of the author and the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

 

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine' at the National Gallery of Victoria installation photograph

 

Woman looking at Gustave Moreau’s Jupiter and Europa 1868
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'Jupiter and Europa' 1868 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
Jupiter and Europa (detail)
1868
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'Jupiter and Europa' 1868 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
Jupiter and Europa (detail)
1868
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

'Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine' at the National Gallery of Victoria installation photograph

 

'Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine' at the National Gallery of Victoria installation photograph

 

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine at the National Gallery of Victoria installation photographs
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'The Sirens' 1885 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
The Sirens (detail)
1885
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'The Sirens' 1885 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
The Sirens (detail)
1885
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'Helen on the Walls of Troy' c. 1870 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
Helen on the Walls of Troy (detail)
c. 1870
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Be seduced by femmes fatales, goddesses and temptresses of history and legend at the NGV this summer in Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine, the first significant exhibition of Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) to be seen in Australia. The superb craftsmanship of Gustave Moreau will be celebrated with over 100 paintings, watercolours and drawings from the unique and acclaimed Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris. Gerard Vaughan, Director, NGV said this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Australians to see these captivating works by Moreau.

“Visitors will embrace Moreau’s portrayals of familiar historical and mythical characters. From famed femmes fatales including Salomé, Helen of Troy and Lady Macbeth to the rugged depictions of Hercules and the Cyclops, this spectacular exhibition will reveal the many faces of Gustave Moreau.

Moreau’s pictures are amongst the most haunting and mysterious of the entire 19th century, and ironically are incredibly modern.  This is a must see exhibition!” said Dr Vaughan.

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine will explore the artist’s obsession with the female form, taking visitors on a voyage from classical antiquity and the ancient Far East, to Christianity’s more lurid escapades and epic narratives of the Middle Ages.

Ted Gott, Senior Curator, International Art, NGV said: “Throughout his life Moreau was both entranced by female beauty and captivated by the allure of powerful, even dangerous women from the pages of history and legend, making him a cult figure for today’s younger generation who are spellbound by gothic tales and imagery.

Moreau’s fascination with heroines and queens, goddesses and temptresses were screens through which he could filter his explorations of the key themes of the Eternal Feminine: obsession, dream, luxury, magic, the femme fatale, exoticism and the ideal,” said Dr Gott.

A highlight of the exhibition will be a section devoted to Moreau’s most celebrated and intriguing obsession – the story of Salomé and the beheading of John the Baptist. Salomé is often depicted as an icon of dangerous female seductiveness and in this famous tale, her stepfather Herod requests Salomé to dance for him on his birthday in exchange for anything she desires. Salomé dances and then orders the beheading of John the Baptist who was in prison at the time for criticising the marriage of her mother, Herodias and stepfather Herod.

During his youth, Moreau was obsessed with Italian art of the 14th and 15th centuries, and with narratives drawn from the classical past. This exhibition will feature the tales and tribulations of well known characters from history – both real and mythological – including Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Messalina, Lady Macbeth, Samson and Delilah, Galatea, Sappho and Salomé.

Whilst many of Moreau’s works are filled with mythical female characters, in life he was surrounded by two key female figures: his mother and his girlfriend, Alexandrine Dureux. Moreau lived with his mother until her passing in 1884, while Dureux lived nearby. After Dureux’s death in 1890, Moreau transformed his family home into a museum, creating massive ateliers for the display of more than 5,000 of his own works of art, as well as dedicating rooms to his father, his mother and Alexandrine Dureux. Left to the French nation in Moreau’s will in 1898 and officially opened to the public in 1903, the Musée Gustave Moreau remains one of the world’s most unique and extraordinary single-artist museums.

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website [Online] Cited 07/12/2010 no longer available online

 

Gustave Moreau. 'Delilah' Nd (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
Delilah (detail)
Nd
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

'Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine' at the National Gallery of Victoria installation photograph

 

'Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine' at the National Gallery of Victoria installation photograph

 

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine at the National Gallery of Victoria installation photographs
Photos: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'The Apparition' 1875 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
The Apparition (detail)
1875
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'The Apparition' 1875 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
The Apparition (detail)
1875
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'Beheading of John the Baptist' 1870 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
Beheading of John the Baptist (detail)
1870
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

'Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine' at the National Gallery of Victoria installation photograph

 

Installation photograph Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine at the National Gallery of Victoria with at left, The Unicorns (c. 1885) and Fairy with Griffons (1875) second from right
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'Fairy with Griffons' 1875 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
Fairy with Griffons (detail)
1875
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'Fairy with Griffons' 1875 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
Fairy with Griffons (detail)
1875
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'The Unicorns' c. 1885 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
The Unicorns (detail)
c. 1885
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

Gustave Moreau. 'The Unicorns' c. 1885 (detail)

 

Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
The Unicorns (detail)
c. 1885
Oil on canvas
Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Photo: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 5pm

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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