BEARDSLEY, Aubrey (1872-1898)
Plaque erected in 1948 by London County Council at 114 Cambridge Street, Pimlico, London, SW1V 4QF, City of Westminster
Cartoons and Illustration, Fine Arts
AUBREY BEARDSLEY 1872-1898 ARTIST lived here
Aubrey Beardsley’s distinctive illustrations made him a leading figure of the Aesthetic movement, and have since earned him a cult status. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at 114 Cambridge Street in Pimlico, where he lived between 1893 and 1895.
Aubrey Beardsley lived a short life of intense creativity. The lease for 114 Cambridge Street was partly bought with the proceeds of Beardsley’s precocious success, which had kicked off in the early 1890s. Up until then the family had been mired in poverty and living in short-term lodgings.
Beardsley lived at 114 Cambridge Street, opposite St Gabriel’s Church with his sister Mabel and mother Ellen. The two connecting rooms on the first floor in Cambridge Street were used by Beardsley as a drawing room-cum-studio. Beardsley’s friend, the artist William Rothenstein, recalled that
the walls...were distempered a violent orange, the doors and skirtings were painted black; a strange taste I thought; but his taste was all for the bizarre and exotic.
Another of Beardsley’s affectations was an insistence on working by candlelight, behind heavy curtains. This was all in keeping with the artist’s intense, disturbing work – ‘I see everything in a grotesque way’, he once admitted.
His commissions from this time included the famous illustrations for Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur (1893−94) and Oscar Wilde’s Salome (1894). Visitors to 114 Cambridge Street included his friends Wilde, Max Beerbohm and Walter Sickert.
AFTER CAMBRIDGE STREET
In 1894 Beardsley was employed by John Lane as art editor of the literary journal The Yellow Book, but he was sacked the following year in the aftermath of the downfall of Oscar Wilde – a victim of guilt by association. With his main source of income gone, Beardsley put the Cambridge Street house up for sale in May 1895, and with his sister Mabel – later the inspiration for ‘Upon a Dying Lady’ (1919) by WB Yeats – moved to 57 Chester Terrace (now Chester Row) in Belgravia.
By the close of 1896, Beardsley was recuperating on the south coast from consumptive attacks. As his health further declined he moved to France, where he died of tuberculosis at the age of just 25. The plaque was unveiled on the 50th anniversary of Beardsley’s death by John, the son of William Rothenstein.