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Blame It On Beardsley

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Aubrey Beardsley, Digital ID 1543078, New York Public LibraryMy Art Deco research shows that the fashion for a slender woman in artistic depiction evolved roughly in the waning decades of the 19th century. Those familiar with Art Nouveau will remember the elongated feminine models favored by Alphonse Mucha and Gustav Klimt. There is another culprit, however, who endowed the attenuated feminine figure with erotic force. Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) created erotic sketches that displayed the human form in a new light. His pen and ink drawings, particularly his plates illustrating the tale of Salome, are rife with sexual angst. 

Beardsley’s drawings for The Yellow Book (1894-1897) were masterful renderings of his contemporary society. The matron illustrated above has opulent curves that lose out against the growing movement toward Modernism. Anything angular, elongated, and suggestive of lithe speed fit the new Modernist aesthetic. And as Ann Hollander noted in her Seeing Through Clothes, this Modernist viewpoint was teaching people to see themselves as shapes, even those angular and geometric in nature. Beardsley helped this trend by using differing body types in his erotic drawings in a satirical fashion, and having the very slim figures be the sexually charged objects of desire. One of the best biographies of his life, which can be found in the Art Division, has an apt title: Aubrey Beardsley: A Slave to Beauty.

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