Aubrey Beardsley was an English artist and illustrator who left a lasting impression on the world of nascent graphic design. His subject matter was often risqué and his style exemplified the Art Nouveau use of flowing lines and sensuous curves.
Born in 1872, Aubrey’s first published illustrations were for a school newspaper when he was 13. At age 19 Aubrey became a professional artist, and within a year moved to Paris. In Paris he discovered a number of artists and styles, which he would be influenced by. Chief amongst these (at least initially) was the poster art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Japanese printing also influenced him, which was immensely popular at the time.
Aubrey also co-founded a number of publications, most notably The Yellow Book (1894) and The Savoy (1896). The press was often critical of Aubrey’s art, deeming it offensive and crude, even though in one edition of the Yellow Book, he signed different pictures with different pseudonyms, with the same critics commending his art when they weren’t aware of his authorship.
Aubrey’s styles varied from the elegant to the grotesque, borrowing themes from paganism, mythology, fashion and erotica for his work.
Aubrey’s contribution to graphic design is evident in his borders and his lettering, as well as overall composition of his work. His work appeared as book covers and illustrations, posters for events and publications and also satirical cartoons.
Though Aubrey’s work was often lewd and provocative, exemplifying the Aesthetic movement of the time, shortly before his death in 1898 he converted to Roman Catholicism, and “repented” of his “obscene” art from his life, even asking his publisher to destroy his work. Fortunately, his work remains intact where it influences graphic designers to this day.