Born in 1872, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley was an English illustrator and author. His drawings in black ink, influenced by the style of Japanese woodcuts, emphasized the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic. He was a leading figure in the Aesthetic movement which also included Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler. Beardsley’s contribution to the development of the Art Nouveau and poster styles was significant, despite the brevity of his career before his early death at 25 from tuberculosis.
Most of Beardsley’s images are drawn in ink, and feature large dark areas contrasted with large blank ones, and areas of fine detail contrasted with areas with none at all. Beardsley’s work reflected the decadence of his era and his influence was enormous, clearly visible in the work of the French Symbolists, the Poster Art Movement of the 1890s and the work of many later-period Art Nouveau artists like Pape, Mucha and Clarke.
More than mere illustrations, Beardsley’s images captured the mood of the accompanying text, while aggressively critiquing repressive Victorian concepts of sexuality, beauty, gender roles, and consumerism.
Beardsley’s poster art and essay, “The Art of the Hoarding” (1894) changed how the public thought about art and advertising. The two, according to the artist, were not mutually exclusive. His theatre posters manifested his theory and helped revolutionize poster production in Europe and America.
Beardsley created his first colour lithograph poster in 1894 for the Avenue Theatre in London, which featured two plays at the time. The poster was a sensation. At the time, the relationship between posters, public advertisements, and fine art was a topic of debate, with Beardsley at the forefront. Reflecting upon Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster art and his own ambitions to accomplish something similar in England, Beardsley set out his theory on art and advertising in 1894’s The Art of the Hoarding . In his essay, the artist argued that, “advertisement is an absolute necessity of modern life.” According to Beardsley, ads should be beautiful as well as understood by the general public. His posters, as well as his convictions about commercial design, were practical and beautiful, helping to revolutionize poster advertising.