I remember purchasing this book upon its release in 1998, the centenary of Beardsley's death and the height of a resurgent interest in the remarkable work he produced in his short life, lost to tuberculosis at twenty-five. Then, as now, I was impressed by the comprehensive layout, tracing the output of his short years from early gothic manuscripts such as 'Le Mort d'Arthur' through the classic and exalted 'Yellow Book' plates to exquisitely detailed illustrations for 'Madamoiselle du Maupin' and 'The Rape of the Lock'. The plates themselves are beautifully reproduced on quality gloss paper which deliver the full impact of Beardsley's high contrast images. The often scant facts of Beardsley's life are covered as thoroughly as we can hope for: his introverted childhood spent with his mother and sister, his social circle which included such fin de siecle luminaries as Oscar Wilde, James Whistler and Max Beerbohm, and his final years spent between London and Dieppe, after Wilde's trial and conviction signalled the beginning of the end for the public profile of decadent art. Where facts are thin on the ground, expert opinion (chiefly Stephen Calloway's own) is employed to render our image of Beardsley and his time more vividly, and very effectively so. The book has a consistent ability to evoke the period and sensibilities of the creative milieu, thanks in part to the austere presentation in keeping with the images contained, but due in main to Calloway's empathy with Beardsley's sense of displacement and wonder as well as a deep and intuitive knowledge of late Victorian times and the prevailing artistic mood and mores. The ending chapter on art of the twentieth century directly inspired by Beardsley (most notably the underrated psychedelic poster art of the sixties) goes to show that his work possessed a haunting psychological dimension, poised between dramatic movement and unearthly stasis, which still feels relevant in our age. It is a wonderful introduction to the output and mindset of this unique artist, able to absorb and educate in equal measures.
This is great for detailed information on Beardsley's life, his personality, friends and the society in which he mixed, with many interesting photographs. There are lots of examples of his drawings, but this is not a comprehensive selection. I would love the book to have had more plates of his designs. Fortunately, I have other books with more of his work in, but this is certainly an essential book for any Beardsley fan.