Aubrey Beardsley’s Macabre Illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories (1894)


Ear­li­er this month, we fea­tured Oscar Wilde’s scan­dalous play Salome as illus­trat­ed by Aubrey Beard­s­ley in 1894. Though Beard­s­ley’s short life and career would end a scant four years lat­er at the age of 25, the illus­tra­tor still had more than enough time to devel­op a clear and bold, yet elab­o­rate and even deca­dent style, still imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able and deeply influ­en­tial today.


He also man­aged to visu­al­ize an impres­sive­ly wide range of mate­r­i­al, one that includes — in the very same year — the trans­gres­sive­ly wit­ty writ­ing of Oscar Wilde as well as the ground­break­ing­ly macabre writ­ings of Edgar Allan Poe.


“Aubrey Beardsley’s four Poe illus­tra­tions were com­mis­sioned by Her­bert S. Stone and Com­pa­ny, Chica­go, in 1894 as embell­ish­ment for a mul­ti-vol­ume col­lec­tion of the author’s works,” writes artist and design­er John Coulthart. “The Black Cat (above) is jus­ti­fi­ably the most repro­duced of these.” The Lit­er­ary Archive blog argues that “what Beardsley’s illus­tra­tions do tell us of is that Poe’s sto­ries are not sta­t­ic, but liv­ing works that each new gen­er­a­tion gets to expe­ri­ence in [its] own way,” and that they “give us a glimpse into a slight deca­dence and goth­ic-ness still pre­ferred in hor­ror at the time (a giant orang­utan envelopes the girl in his arms—King Kong any­one?)”


They also remind us that “our taste for creepi­ness, for hear­ing tales about the dark­er side of human life, hasn’t changed appre­cia­bly in over 150 years.” If the Amer­i­can author and the Eng­lish illus­tra­tor would seem to make for odd lit­er­ary and artis­tic bed­fel­lows, well, there­in lies the appeal: when one strong cre­ative sen­si­bil­i­ty comes up against anoth­er, things can well go off in the kind of rich­ly bizarre direc­tions you see hint­ed at in the images here.

If you’d like to own a piece of this odd chap­ter in the his­to­ry of illus­trat­ed texts, keep your eye on Sothe­by’s — you’ll only have to come up with between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds.

via The Paris Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Oscar Wilde’s Play Salome Illus­trat­ed by Aubrey Beard­s­ley in a Strik­ing Mod­ern Aes­thet­ic (1894)

Gus­tave Doré’s Splen­did Illus­tra­tions of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (1884)

5 Hours of Edgar Allan Poe Sto­ries Read by Vin­cent Price & Basil Rath­bone

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Adoré Floupette says:

    Quite sure – pos­i­tive, in fact – that the por­trait of EAP lead­ing off this arti­cle is NOT by Aubrey Beard­s­ley. It’s most like­ly from the 1919 “Nichols col­lec­tion,” a group of about 80 weak forg­eries. All of Beard­s­ley’s draw­ings have been care­ful­ly record­ed, but the EAP por­trait is not includ­ed in Aymar Val­lance’s iconog­ra­phy which was revised by Beard­s­ley him­self.

    Allow me to say your web­site has pro­vid­ed me with many – far, far too many – hours of inter­est and delight.

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