Beresford Egan on Beardsley

baudelaire-illustration

          ‘Fleurs du Mal’ (1927)

Found in Beresford Egan’s Epitaph, a Double-Bedside Book for Singular People (Fortune Press 1943) this piece by him on Aubrey Beardsley. Beresford Egan was always compared to Beardsley and was probably a little fed up with it. In appearance and temperament he was nothing like the 1890s aesthete. His technique was also somewhat different, as he explains. Apart  from his illustrations and books he also worked as a film actor and he can be glimpsed in Powell and Pressberger’s masterpiece A Canterbury Tale.

Beresford writes:

But poor, dear Aubrey! What of him? His shadow has overcast my life, as it has overcast the lives of others in the realm of black and white. Aubrey Beardsley died in the “arms of the church” and fell into the claws of the literary vultures. His bones have been picked bare, but his legendary spirit will continue to haunt us, until a critic is born who can see further than ‘The Yellow Book’.

Beardsley – that name has become a critical cliche. Who, among the black ink brotherhood, has not been compared with him? – except, of course, the followers of the “crosshatch” school still performing in ‘Punch’. There appears to be no overshadowing master of this technique: not even Tenniel, Charles Keene, nor Lindley Sambourne. The “crosshatchers” are never charged with plagiarism, although I have seen many an exponent whom one might justifiably accuse of being cast in the Harry Furniss (forgive the pun).

Talking of crosshatching reminds me to cross swords with certain Beardsley-minded critics, on a point of some moment. A question of tools. Surely, the quality of a line is determined by the instrument employed? A brush stroke cannot be likened to that of a pen, any more than a water-colour can be judged in terms of oil-painting. A drawing in black and white carried out with a brush is distinct from a black and white drawing expressed with the pen. A distinction with a very great difference. Aubrey Beardsley was essentially a pen draughtsman. My work (should you be interested) is executed with a No. 3 sable hair brush. One would imagine that this dissimilarity could not deceive the trained eye; but trained eyes are rare and critics innumerable.

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