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Aubrey Beardsley Exhibition

Aubrey Beardsley Exhibition Shapero Rare Books

'I have one aim - the grotesque. If I am not grotesque - I am nothing'

Aubrey Beardsley Exhibition Shapero Rare Books

Written by Roddy Newlands

A new exhibition showcasing the illustrative skills and imagination of the renowned 1890s draughtsman & illustrator Aubrey Beardsley opens at Shapero Rare Books 105 New Bond Street Gallery on 13th May 2021.

Shapero will be offering for sale an important collection of the artist’s works, started by Rainforth Armitage Walker and continued by W.G. Good.

The collection comprises all the major works in the artist’s canon and is the most comprehensive collection of Aubrey Beardsley’s printed works ever assembled.  Exploring the outlandish, the comical, the stylish and the erotic, Beardsley’s distinctive style is instantly recognisable and despite its imitators remains unique to this day.

This incredible collection also forms the basis for an Aubrey Beardsley exhibition, displaying Beardsley’s most important illustrated books, alongside earlier works, books from the artist’s own library, rare titles relating to the Decadent and Aesthetic movements, unexpurgated proofs, drawings and other collectable works.  Despite commencement of the collecting beginning over one hundred years ago, the books remain in exceptional condition.

Beardsley’s masterpiece of classic illustration Le Morte d’Arthur is one of the highlights of the collection (with almost a whole cabinet dedicated to it in the actual Aubrey Beardsley exhibition), making its presence felt across several editions, including the first, special edition of 300 copies only.

Beardsley's rendering of the Arthurian legend reflects both the neoclassical tradition at the heart of the Pre-Raphaelite and the Art & Crafts movements, and the emerging romantic spirit of the Decadent movement, resulting in a stunning visual and tactile work.

Also part of the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition will be an extremely rare first English edition of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, from W.G. Good’s library.  Wilde himself makes a cameo in several of Beardsley’s gorgeous illustrations, which despite being somewhat tongue-in-cheek met with the author’s approval.

The last great work undertaken by Beardsley was to be an illustrated edition of Ben Jonson’s 17th-century satirical work Volpone, or The Fox.  Beardsley’s enthusiasm for Volpone can be seen in the text he wrote for the prospectus, only part of which was used, the whole being reproduced in A Beardsley Miscellany(1949): ‘In none other of his Ben Jonson’s prodigious intellect and ardent satirical genius so perfectly revealed as in Volpone. The whole of Juvenal’s satires are not more full of scorn and indignation than this one play…’

Initially intended to have 25 designs by the artist, only one full-page illustration was completed as Beardsley’s health deteriorated.  'Volpone Adoring his Treasure' was used as the frontispiece for the edition, and is widely considered one of the artist's greatest works.  Beardsley himself called it ‘one of the strongest things I have ever done’.

The creators of the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition

Rainforth Armitage Walker (born 1886) developed an interest in the recently deceased artist Aubrey Beardsley in the early 1900s.  He became a passionate collector of Beardsley’s drawings, studying them in detail and establishing guidelines for identifying the many forgeries that were appearing in the early 20th century.  Walker’s collection of the artist’s drawings formed the basis of the National Gallery’s 1923-24 Beardsley exhibition.

As his health deteriorated in the 1950s, Walker passed custodial ownership of his collection of Aubrey Beardsley's works in print to his friend and fellow collector W. G. Good, who developed the collection further, with the expanded collection contributing to the V&A 1966 Beardsley exhibition curated by Brian Reade.  The result of Walker and Good’s curatorial and bibliographical efforts is a collection of Beardsley’s art in print without equal.

"The Walker-Good collection provides an exceptional opportunity to experience the full scope of Aubrey Beardsley’s all-too-short career as an illustrator and artist, from his earliest works when he was still at school through to the final, unfinished works showcasing the evolution of an epic ambition and imagination." Bernard Shapero, CEO of Shapero Rare Books

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Shapero Rare Books is an internationally renowned dealer in London, specialising in antiquarian & rare books and works on paper, with particular expertise in fine illustrated books from the 15th to the 20th century, travel & voyages, natural history, modern firsts, rare children’s books, guidebooks, Hebraica & Judaica, Eastern European, and Islamica

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