Cover design for the Yellow Book, Aubrey Beardsley, 1895

This illustration was produced by Aubrey Beardsley for the cover of The Yellow Book, which was due to be published in April 1895. Beardsley was sacked from his position as art editor shortly before publication and the design was never used.

What can we see?

Bit rude?

Beardsley was well known for hiding naughty elements within his richly detailed drawings. His publisher John Lane suggested that it was best to check ‘so to speak…under a microscope and…upside down’ before printing them.

Some people claim to see all kinds of images in Beardsley’s work. Is this the representation of a naked woman’s body, or is it just a knobbly tree?

Pencil me in

Beardsley worked out his ideas in pencil first. He then went over these in ink, erasing most of the sketch lines.

Here you can still see some of the pencil markings on the woman’s dress. These would not have been visible in the published version of the drawing.

Party animal

The satyr was a mythical Greek creature, half man and half goat. Beardsley often featured them in his illustrations.

Satyrs were associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of vegetation and fruitfulness, but also wine and wild festivity. The grapes allude to the phrase ‘to wear vine leaves in one’s hair’, which means to be drunk.

Size matters

Because his designs were intended for the covers or pages of printed books, Beardsley usually worked on a very small scale. The size of this picture is not much larger than a postcard.

We can see here that Beardsley was capable of extremely fine lines and tiny detail. He often drew rectangular borders around his pictures, sometimes leaving blank spaces where the typeface would be inserted later.

Author: Alexia Lazou, Collections Assistant

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