Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Photograph of Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872 - 1898) 1894

Frederick Evans 

Photograph of Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872 - 1898), Frederick Evans
Platinum print
19th Century
4 7/8 x 3 5/8 inches 12.5 x 9.1 cm
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The association of Beardsley and Evans that produced this photograph is less in the manner of a conventional portrait commission than a collaboration between two artists of similar interest. Both men were anxious to pursue art beyond its normal goals. In Evans’s case he was preoccupied by the ‘study of the beautiful’. It was this that led him eventually to give up his occupation as a bookseller in favour of photography, then a medium whose artistic potential was scarcely explored. In 1887 he was awarded a medal by the Royal Photographic Society for microscopic images of shells, which were, despite his intention, categorized as scientific photographs.

A fascination with unusual forms for their own sake, rather than taxonomy, would coincide entirely with Beardsley’s own mentality, and when the two men met in 1889 they became friends immediately. Evans was able to secure the young artist a commission to illustrate Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur, which was Beardsley’s first taste of fame and public reputation.

This photograph is, with his Sea of Steps study of the Wells Cathedral Chapter House Evans’s most famous work, and an impressive beginning to his career. It is also a memorial of his friendship with Beardsley, and an example of specific shared aesthetic concerns. From the beginning of the decade Evans had been photographing French and English cathedrals, a study which established his reputation.

From a common mediaevalism and –in Beardsley’s case- a love of the grotesque, it is said that Beardsley wished particularly to be posed as though he were a gargoyle on a cathedral. This photograph is the result, where Beardsley head and hands appear as a single carved piece, characterised by the long bony wrists and angular jutting nose, like a mediaeval mason’s concept of guignole. Of the prints Beardsley wrote in a letter of August 20th 1894:
‘I think the photos are splendid; couldn’t be better.’
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