(1872-1898) UK illustrator and writer, a central graphic artist of the late 19th century. Delicate, daring, perverse and profoundly erotic, his drawings remain instantly recognizable. He worked almost exclusively in black-and-white, his extremely elegant scraped Indian-ink line laying down and surrounding black patterns with a sense of ease, simplicity and effortless arabesque; his late work more and more hinted at obscure and liquid Metamorphoses, giving his last images a Commedia dell'Arte atmosphere. An example of this is his illustration to Ernest Dowson's The Pierrot of the Minute (play 1897).
Much of this work appeared in The Yellow Book (see Magazines) – which he cofounded, and for which he was appointed art editor in 1894, losing the position after the Oscar Wilde scandal in 1895 – and The Savoy, which he also cofounded, in 1896. The first book he illustrated – an edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur (1894) – portrayed Guinevere as a belle dame sans merci (see Lamia), and his females almost invariably entwine his men (who themselves notoriously tend to boast huge phalluses). Other works of interest illustrated by AB include editions of Wilde's Salome (1894), Aristophanes' Lysistrata (1896), and Lucian's True History. His fiction of note is restricted to The Story of Venus and Tannhauser (cut version 1894 The Yellow Book as "Under the Hill"; 1907), a highly erotized rendering of the tale; the bowdlerized Yellow Book version was published in Under the Hill and Other Essays in Prose and Verse (coll 1904).
AB's life – he is reputed to have slept with only one person (his sister) and he died a Roman Catholic convert – and work have come to stand for subsequent generations as an essential definition of the Fin de Siècle. [JC]
Aubrey Vincent Beardsley