Thursday, 16 December 2010

Shadows of the Perverse: Beardsley's Arthur

Aubrey Beardsley - one of Victorian Englands greatest illustrators got to grips with Mallory's Morte d'Arthur, by way of Arts and Crafts polymath William Morris. Beardsley's work can border on the pornographic, an opium-fulled bitter and cynical sensuality - if Melniboné has a favourite print-maker, it would be Beardsley. In Arthur he to reign back in the excesses, but the underlying hedonistic perversity does seem to seep through, a Satyr - well known as Pan, a symbol of wild, male virility is bequeathed pert female breasts and a symbol of hierarchical religion in the form of an incense spewing censer. A heady mix indeed, and quite subversive when set against the traditionally chivalrous Arthurian tales.

Fluid lines, amazing control and decorative sensibility make these proto-fantasy art second to none. Beardsley's influence is everywhere in black and white fantasy art, and for good reason.


  1. His work remembers me in a powerful way the Russ Nicholson art. Or is better to say Nicholson remembers me Beardsley?
    If I find this illos in a Fighting Fantasy book never thinked is out of place.

  2. True! I almost subtitled the images "Warlock of Firetop Mountain", "Warhammer", "Forest of Doom" and "Chaos Broo", but thought it might be too laboured.

    I'm sure both Ian Miller and Russ Nicholson would cite Beardsley as an influence.