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Aubrey Beardsley

3 of 8 portraits of Aubrey Beardsley

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Aubrey Beardsley

by Frederick Henry Evans
platinum print, circa 1894
5 3/8 in. x 3 7/8 in. (136 mm x 97 mm)
Given by Robert R. Steele, 1939
Primary Collection
NPG P114

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

A friend and patron of Beardsley, Evans was responsible for obtaining some of his earliest commissions for book illustrations. When this photograph was taken in the summer of 1894, Beardsley was already dying of tuberculosis. He was busy working on illustrations to Wagner's Tannhauser, but was so weak that he spent much of his time sitting about moping. The photograph captures this aspect of him - with his long, thin fingers, his watery eyes and his fine profile, described by Oscar Wilde as like 'a silver hatchet'. Beardsley was delighted with the result and wrote to Evans on 20 August 1894: 'I think the photos are splendid; couldn't be better'.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG P115: Aubrey Beardsley (variant version)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Victorian Portraits Resource Pack, p. 31
  • Funnell, Peter, Victorian Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 31
  • Funnell, Peter (introduction); Marsh, Jan, A Guide to Victorian and Edwardian Portraits, 2011, p. 8
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 141 Read entry

    The bookseller and publisher Frederick Evans of Queen Street, Cheapside, London, was the friend and patron of the artist and illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, and instrumental in obtaining his earliest commissions. He was also a gifted and sensitive photographer, whose style was, like that of Hollyer, noted for its purity. He photographed Beardsley in the summer of 1894, perhaps at his home at 144 Cambridge Street, London. He wrote to Evans on 20 August 1894: 'I think the photos are splendid; couldn't be better. I am looking forward to getting my copies. I should like them on cabinet boards, if that's not too much trouble'. Although seriously ill, he was at this time struggling to work on his illustrations to Wagner's Tannhäuser:

    I have been suffering terribly from a haemorrhage of the lung which of course left me horribly weak. For the time all my work has stopped, and I sit about all day moping and worrying about my beloved Venusberg. I can think about nothing else - I am just doing a picture of Venus feeding her pet unicorns.

    By this date Evans sensed that Beardsley was dying, and this photograph, with its emphasis on the delicate bird-like profile and long etiolated fingers, is a grave and fragile reminder of mortality. Evans exhibited it at the second Photographic Salon of the Linked Ring in October 1894, where it was displayed mounted on a photographic copy of one of Beardsley's black and white border designs. The illustrator of the Yellow Book and Savoy, of The Rape of the Lock and Oscar Wilde's Salomé, whose work aroused such furious controversy, died less than four years later.

  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 162
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 162 Read entry

    In the summer of 1894, when this photograph of Aubrey Beardsley was taken by his friend and publisher Frederick Evans, Beardsley was already dying of tuberculosis. He was busy working on illustrations to Wagner's Tannhäuser, but was so weak that he spent much of his time sitting about moping. The photograph catches this aspect of him - with his long, thin fingers, his watery eyes and his fine profile, described by Oscar Wilde as like 'a silver hatchet'. Beardsley himself was delighted by the photograph, writing to Evans, 'I think the photos are splendid; couldn't be better. I am looking forward to getting my copies.'

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 41
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 165

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1894back to top

Current affairs

Following Gladstone's resignation, Queen Victoria calls on the Liberal MP Archibald Primrose, the 5th Earl of Rosebery to become Prime Minister, a position he reluctantly accepts. His government is largely unsuccessful as the Tory-dominated House of Lords stop the whole of the Liberal's domestic legislation, and his foreign policy plans are defeated by internal Liberal disagreements.

Art and science

The Prince of Wales opens Tower Bridge, built over the Thames to improve access to the growing commercial district of the East End. The bridge was constructed from two bascules, or leaves, which could be raised to allow ships to pass underneath.
Rudyard Kipling's hugely popular collection of children's stories and poems, The Jungle Book, is published. The stories, based on Kipling's own experiences in India, have been adapted many times.

International

The arrest and court-martial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer, opens up divisions in France over anti-semitism continuing until Dreyfus's exoneration in 1906. The French President Sadi Carnot is assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Lyon.
Nicholas II becomes Tsar of Russia following the death of Alexander III.
Japan and China go to war over control of Korea, with the more modern Japanese army winning an easy victory.

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