Fin-de-Siècle Innovations and Aubrey Beardsley

 

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Advertisement is an absolute necessity of modern life, and if it can be made beautiful as well as obvious, so much the better…


63680_letter-w_mthhen asked to reflect on image and text in Fin-de-Siècle illustrated magazines and digital culture, it is without hesitation that I turn to Aubrey Beardsley as a source of inspiration. His style is undoubtedly iconic; his elegant use of curvilinear shapes, the simultaneous balance and contrast of his compositions

La Dame aux Camélias
La Dame aux Camélias

 through the masses of white space with black, and the highly concentrated detail juxtaposed with uncomplicated lines and blank space all work to visually define his aesthetic.

 

It is not merely his visual style, however, that I find so emblematic of the period. From image to image, his representations of women are fitting with the cultural rise of the New Woman figure.

Lysistrata Haranguing the Athenian Women
Lysistrata Haranguing the Athenian Women

She averts the voyeuristic gaze of the surveyor, is only sexualized when it appears to be by her own agency, and is seen engaging with the public sphere in a manner that Victorian consumers would find inappropriate and foreign to their conception of traditional femininity.

 

The notion of consumer brings forth another innovative facet of modernity advocated for by Beardsley. As consumer culture flourished as a response to more efficient modes of mass production near the turn of the 19th century, so did the need for effective means of advertising. In “The Art of Hoarding,” Beardsley marries the idea of aesthetics and practicality—a relationship that once threatened artistic elitism.

The Yellow Book Vol. 2, July 1894
The Yellow Book Vol. 2, July 1894

This transformation that welcomes graphic art rather than degrades it, which I believe is owed much to Beardsley’s contributions and reputation, illuminates to us as contemporary scholars the significance of his work in our understanding of modernity and the visual, image and text.


Rebecca Anderson