It is startling to realize that if Aubrey Beardsley had been fortunate enough to live out his biblical three score years and ten, he would have survived well into the Second World War. What might not he, the contemporary of Matisse, Picasso, Picabia, Marinetti, and Braque, have achieved? But Beardsley came of age, flourished, and died in the 1890s, and thus it is with the Nineties—the “mauve decade”—that he will forever be associated. In his Aubrey Beardsley: A Biography, the British writer and critic Matthew Sturgis has presented a detailed, generously illustrated, and frequently amusing account of the artist’s brief (a mere twenty-five years) and rather fantastic life.

A conscious dandy, Beardsley liked to pose as a man of leisure, and he cultivated a front of conspicuous idleness. Nothing could have been further from the real story, for the career of this poster boy for the decadent movement was in...

 
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