Aubrey Vincent Beardsley – fin de siècle artist and draughtsman and artistic figure of the late 19th century – was born at 12 (now 31) Buckingham Road in 1872. He was baptised at St Nicholas Church and brought up in ‘genteel poverty’. In 1885 Aubrey attended Brighton and Hove Grammar School, also in Buckingham Road (at the corner with Upper Gloucester Road) for 4 years, moving on to London by the early 1890s and moving between there and Paris for his remaining short life.
Beardsley’s elegant black and white line drawings delineate artful, grotesque and often erotic takes on contemporary mores and behaviours. He was co-founder and art editor of ‘The Yellow Book’, an art and literary journal of the 1890s, and became friends with Oscar Wilde and other aesthetes (Beardsley illustrated Wilde’s play ‘Salome’). His work perfectly reflects the decadence of the fin de siècle and is said to have influenced the work of French Symbolists and, later, Art Nouveau.
A controversial figure, Beardsley was an eccentric and a strange looking man. Wilde said he “had a face like a silver hatchet.” He is portrayed, tall and gaunt, by Walter Sickert in 1894 in the grey morning suit he used to like wear to his publishers.
His association with Wilde and the scandal following Wilde’s arrest in 1895 for ‘committing indecent acts’ brought about Beardsley’s downfall and he fled to France. Three years later he died in Menton in the south of France, aged 25, from tuberculosis.
Here is the plaque commemorating Beardsley on the wall of 31 Buckingham Road but it’s not that visible or very well looked after. Brighton is rightly proud of its artistic heritage so perhaps it’s time to make more locally of this particular Brighton-born artist and his exquisite drawings.