Max Beerbohm’s Caricature of Aubrey Beardsley

Max Beerbohm’s Caricature of Aubrey Beardsley

By Will Noel

Thanks to Robert H. Taylor, for whom Beerbohm was, like Anthony Trollope, something of an obsession, Princeton has a superb Beerbohm collection.  Taylor managed to acquire both manuscripts of Beerbohm’s 1911 novel, Zuleika Dobson—still in print today—along with numerous other manuscripts, a plethora of letters and caricatures, and books from Beerbohm’s library (books that he “improved” with humorous drawings and manuscript emendations). To this the Princeton University Library has added the massive correspondence from Beerbohm to his wife, Florence Kahn, a Memphis-born actress.

One of those riches is this caricature by Beerbohm of Aubrey Beardsley.

Caricature of a tall, thin man with his hair over his eyes and unusually short arms
Max Beerbohm caricature of Aubrey Beardsley, undated. Aubrey Beardsley Collection (C0056), Box 13, Folder 98.

Born only three days apart in August 1872, Aubrey Beardsley and Max Beerbohm were introduced to one another by the artist William Rothenstein and soon formed a close friendship. Beardsley was of course the most brilliant, and also provocative, illustrator of the 1890s, famous for his illustrations to Oscar Wilde’s Salome, London’s Yellow Book quarterly, and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Princeton’s Beardsley Collection is unequalled, largely thanks to the donation of art critic and painter A.E. Gallatin. It was Beerbohm’s habit to draw his friends and associates, gently poking fun at their visage and amber; here he shows Beardsley’s elegance, red hair, and the thin frame caused by the tuberculosis which was to kill him prematurely. It truly captures Beardsley in one of the first signs of Beerbohm’s mature brilliance. When Beardsley died in 1898, aged only twenty-five, Beerbohm published a heartfelt appreciation of his friend’s “genius.” 

Mark Samuels Lasner and Margaret D. Stetz are organizing and exhibition for the New York Public Library scheduled to open at 42nd Street in October 2023, the first major show of the celebrated writer-caricaturist-dandy Max Beerbohm’s work in nearly half a century: “Max Beerbohm: Master of Celebrity Caricature.” We’re looking forward to it!