Collectors Snapping at the Heels of an Ageless Beardsley; Richard Edmonds Previews the Forthcoming Sotheby's Sale of Artist Aubrey Beardsley's Work

By Edmonds, Richard | The Birmingham Post (England), October 30, 1999 | Go to article overview

Collectors Snapping at the Heels of an Ageless Beardsley; Richard Edmonds Previews the Forthcoming Sotheby's Sale of Artist Aubrey Beardsley's Work


Edmonds, Richard, The Birmingham Post (England)


Several antiquarian booksellers I have spoken to recently told me that anything connected to Aubrey Beardsley is "hot stuff" and is snapped up right away.

So now we know where people are placing their money, all of which makes me think that if you collect books you should be combing the shelves at Hay-on-Wye where there are still bargains.

And this means that a single subject sale - in this case, books and printed works by Beardsley - is bound to attract the crowds and so the prices, which will be raised at Sotheby's next month, will indicate new levels for this remarkable artist.

I used to find Beardsley items in the shelves at the old Cornish's bookshop in New Street, in the days when Birmingham could support an antiquarian book dealer in the heart of the city centre.

Dusty, gloomy and filled with inexpensive treasures, Cornish's was great on a Saturday afternoon with the coffee smells from the Kardomah drifting up the street. I found there Beardsley's Yellow Book for a few bob and I fell under the spell of his gloriously tainted decadence, black and white style, which put paid for ever to my childhood favourites, Henry Ford and Arthur Rackham.

Beardsley's hallucinatory world of Hermaphrodites and Homunculi, satyrs, sapphics, fops, phalluses, foetuses and grotesques, suited me very well in my formative years, representing as it did suberversion.

Nowadays I still marvel at his ageless designs and those oddly introverted self portraits which remind one that poor Aubrey was dead at 25 years old from tuberculosis. Yet that extraordinary work is as fresh and alive today as ever and you will still see its influence on boxes, carrier bags, tee shirts, mugs or curtain material

Sotheby's will be selling Beardsley material on Thursday, November 18 and the catalogue contains almost all of Beardsley's illustrated books along with loads of printed ephemera (proofs of his Salome illustrations, theatre posters publishers' flyers etc).

Beardsley's Illustrations made for the Keynotes series are still around and are generally reasonably priced and the books themselves are charming and worth looking out for.

The Salome drawings, done when Beardsley was running with the Oscar Wilde set (Wilde was carrying a copy of The Yellow Book when he was arrested) are still formidable in their decadent beauty and, it is Wilde's face that appears in the frontispiece caricatured as "The Woman in the Moon".

In an excellent introduction to yet another wonderfully researched catalogue written by Sotheby's literary experts - a catalogue I urge you to buy if you wish to progress as a book collector - we can learn that Beardsley's agent, Leonard Smithers, approached prospective patrons for Aubrey's erotic work with confidence, telling them: "I can't sell cheap - after his death prices will rise". …

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