As Brian Reade pointed out four decades ago — others have told the story, too — when Wilde was arrested for sodomy, Beardsley found himself linked in the popular press with him, and after a mob broke the windows of the publishers of The Yellow Book, of which Beardsley was art editor, he lost his job. "Beardsley was left thus suddenly without any means of livelihood. The roomy house in Pimlico where he and his family had lived since 1893 was given up, and thenceforward he existed in a makeshift way. Worse, he felt deeply shocked at the surrounding hostility" (9). At this point, "Leonard Smithers, a lawyer turned publisher and bookseller, and much engaged in the commerce of erotica," enters the story. "It is hard to do justice to Smithers," says Reade:

He was intelligent and gross and knavish and generous by turns. He and Arthur Symons, the writer, founded a new magazine The Savoy, with more limited sale than The Yellow Book. and in this some of Beardsley's best designs were published during 1896, together with part of his erotic novel Venus and Tannhäuser which came out in The Savoy as Under the Hill. It was Smithers who published Beardsley's illustrations to Lysistrata, to The Rape of the Lock and to Ernest Dowson's playlet The Pierrot of the Minute. In the Lysistrata drawings Beardsley kept to bold forms without backgrounds and to the skilful arrangement of outlines and dots. . . . It was Smithers too who supported the young artist financially, if unevenly, during these years — at least he thought he did. In fact, by 1896 Beardsley was receiving gratuitous financial support from a platonic admirer Mark Andre Raffalovich, the rich son of a Russian-Jewish banker; a man-of-letters and a close friend of the poet John Gray; a homosexual who was fired with the ambition to convert Beardsley to Roman Catholicism. [9-10]

He succeeded in this last goal, for Beardsley converted to Catholicism shortly before his tuberculosis-ridden body succumbed at last. "Was this," Reade asks, "a victory for the Church. Or was it after all a premature victory for Death?" (11).


Reade, Brian. Beardsley, Aubrey. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1966.

Last modified 29 October 2006