[George Cruikshank, a major illustrator of earlier Victorian days, created the decorative uppercase "B." — George P. Landow]

eardsley's relationship with Wilde was troubled from the very beginning. In April 1893, inspired by the just published French version of Salome, Beardsley drew Salome with Saint John's Head as one of several illustrations to accompany Joseph Pennell's article on him in the first number of The Savoy. In reply to Beardsley's interest in translating the piece, however, Wilde sent an autographed copy of the play, signed: "For Aubrey: for the only artist who knows what the dance of seven veils is, and can see that invisible dance. Oscar." Wilde's enthusiasm for Beardsley's art dampened when the young artist was contracted to provide the illustrations for the English translation being done by Lord Alfred Douglas.

Beardsley, heavily influenced by Whistler, produced drawings that were "too Japanese" according to Wilde, who considered his play Byzantine. [Beardsley's drawings were "like the naughty scribbles a precocious boy makes on the margins of his copybooks." It was not Wilde, however, who asked Beardsley to revise four of the drawings, but the publisher of the play, who was offended by the grotesque nudity in them. In truth, Wilde worried about the balance of the volume. Beardsley's illustrations possessed so much power independent of the text that they might subordinate the play entirely.

In retaliation, Beardsley filled his illustrations with caricatures of Wilde. In response to Wilde's boast that while writing Salome in French he never had to look anything up, Beardsley drew Oscar Wilde at Work, which shows the smug author at a desk piled with a Bible, volumes of Swinburne, a French dictionary, a "First Course" in French, and French Verbs at a Glance.

As the furor over Beardsley increased, Wilde became more vindictive, declaring all over London that it was he who "invented Aubrey Beardsley." Part of what piqued Wilde was Beardsley's involvement in The Yellow Book, from which Wilde was purposely excluded in the "interest of propriety."

Beardsley attended the February 14, 1895, opening of Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, the last direct contact he had with him. In April and May, Wilde was tried, convicted of sodomy, and sentenced to two years at hard labor. Though Salome was not used against Wilde as evidence of perversity, and Beardsley's name not mentioned during the trials, their names were linked enough in the mind of the public to associate Beardsley with all of Wilde's crimes.

In 1895, Wilde was released and exiled to the South of France where Beardsley had retired to improve his health. Though they were in the same town for about a year, there was no contact between them.


Victorian Web Overview Aubrey Beardsley Aesthetes & Decadents Illustration

Last modified 27 April 2009