Seven autograph letters signed from Beardsley to Frederick Henry Evans;
with three related letters, one in Beardsley's hand, another in his sister's, and the last from J. M. Dent to Evans.[c.1894-97] Stock Code: 139251
To the photographer who took the defining Beardsley portraitAn affectionate and richly detailed set of correspondence with his close friend and patron Frederick Henry Evans, the photographer who took the "defining Beardsley portrait" (NPG) and who, by recommending Beardsley to the publisher John M. Dent, ensured the young artist's first commission, his masterpiece Le Morte Darthur, and thus his meteoric rise to fame.
"Until 1898, Evans 1853-1943 owned a bookshop in London where, according to George Bernard Shaw, he was the ideal bookseller, chatting his customers into buying what he thought was right for them. In 1889, Evans befriended the seventeen-year-old Aubrey Beardsley, a clerk in an insurance company who, too poor to make purchases, browsed in the bookshop during lunch hours" (Met). In exchange for books Evans took Beardsley's drawings, which he reproduced as platinotypes and sold in his shop. From 1891 Evans became interested in portraiture and, in 1894, Beardsley sat for him, the artist then enjoying notoriety for his scandalous Salomé and Yellow Book illustrations. The result was two photographs, the better-known of which captures Beardsley cradling his head in his hands, adopting the pose of the Notre Dame gargoyle known as 'Le Stryge' ('The Vampire'). Evans's photographs were the portraits used in early editions of Beardsley's drawings, and he produced an edition of twenty sets, mounted as a diptych in a folder.
The content of Beardsley's letters ranges from his delighted reaction to the aforementioned portraits - "I think the photos are splendid, couldn't be better. I am looking forward much to getting my copies" - to insight into the progress of his many current projects - The Yellow Book ("by general consent my best things are in it"), Venus and Tannhaüser ("gets on Tortoise fashion but admirably for all that"), Volpone ("adorable & astonishing") - and includes a number of poignant references to his ill health. The letters are confidential in tone, with Beardsley often sketching out the specifics of his as-yet-unannounced artwork - "I am just doing of sic picture of Venus feeding her pet unicorns which have garlands of roses round their necks. (By the way don't tell anyone of this subject)", which refers to an unrecorded drawing - or asking Evans to keep their communication a secret - "N.B. Please don't inform anyone of my address & whereabouts". Beardsley wrote the final letter dated 11 December 1897 from Menton, France, where, three months later, he would die of tuberculosis aged 25 years old. In it he exclaims: "What a life! & how wonderful that one has lived through it all".
Three further letters accompany this group. The first is an autograph letter signed from Beardsley to Marie Belloc Lowndes (1868-1947), thanking her for an interview which "reads splendidly". In addition to being a successful novelist Belloc was also a prolific journalist. The interview to which Beardsley refers in his letter is likely the same piece of work which Belloc mentions in a letter of 14 June 1947, now part of Princeton's Gallatin Beardsley Collection: "this Beardsley manuscript, published July 1894, was given to me by Beardsley because I was at the time writing something about him. I did not ask him for it, he sent it to me. I knew him rather well and liked him very much" (library catalogue, p. 18). The second is an autograph letter signed from Beardsley's actress sister Mabel to Evans, discussing plans for her and Aubrey's upcoming visit.
In the third and final letter, from Dent to Evans, the publisher politely refuses to grant Evans's request that one of Beardsley's drawings be included in the Tannhaüser album. A few weeks before, in September 1896, Beardsley had given Dent a small pen-and-ink drawing, made, in the artist's own words, "as a sort of recognition of his generosity in lending drawings for the album, and in payment of a long-standing debt. I took for my subject The Return of Tannhaüser to the Venusberg. It was a very beautiful drawing and Dent gushed over it hugely. I didn't like to ask for permission to bring it out in the album as I did not want him to think I had any arrière pensée in doing it for him" (letter to Leonard Smithers, postmarked 4 October 1896, in Letters, pp. 177-78). Beardsley did, however, ask others to approach Dent on his behalf; his letter to Evans, present here, pleads with him to "use your influence to get the Tannhaüser put in the forthcoming album". Evans did try, but Dent's response was apologetic but firm: "For once I really must beg of you to believe me that I cannot let Beardsley's drawing be reproduced One does not have much of this kind of thing in one's life, and to make a thing which has been given to one specially and which one clings to with affection, a mere public affair, I cannot feel I can do. One has not much of their real own in this world and this is one I have absolutely for myself, and you are the only person I care to share it with at all".
Significant groupings of Beardsley's letters are uncommon in commerce, and the present set is arguably the most comprehensive in its content, and the most personal with regards to its recipient, offering valuable insight into Beardsley's life and work during the height of his career. There have been three other comparable sets: seven letters to Dent discussing terms for and progress of Le Morte Darthur (its last appearance at Sotheby's 2014 11,250); sixteen letters and fourteen drawings to A. W. King, Beardsley's art teacher (Andersen Galleries 1929 950), and eight letters, notes, and telegrams to William Heinemann (Andersen Galleries 1926). Of correspondence specifically from Beardsley to Evans, we can trace three other instances: a one-page undated letter (Sotheby's 1999, The Aubrey Beardsley Collection, 517), a three-page autograph letter signed and dated May 1894, incorporating a small pen-and-ink drawing (Sotheby's 1955, 2,530), and a group of ten autograph letters and an autograph postcard dating between 1893 and 1897 (Christie's 1976, 1,700 before buyer's premium).
Together 9 autograph letters signed and 1 typed letter signed. Varying octavo sizes. Housed in a black quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery.
Some lightly creased from folding. Overall in fine or near-fine condition.
The seven letters from Beardsley to Evans are published in Henry Maas, J. L. Duncan, & W. G. Good, eds., The Letters of Aubrey Beardsley, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1970; recorded then as sometime in the private collection of A. E. Wil
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