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‘[Beardsley’s] vision is permanently that of a child lying in bed watching his mother dress for a dinner-party. His fantasy hangs this here, tries the effect of that there: everything is a jewel, and everything is a sexual organ. He is allured, yet afraid to touch: driven back on a cold minuteness of detailed attention, and yet passionately curious, with the emotional and involved curiosity children give to sex.’
Brigid Brophy first published her study of ‘the most intensely and electrically erotic artist in the world’ in 1968, at the height of her own powers and in the moment of a notable revival of interest – both scholarly and pop-cultural (amid ‘the dandified realm of Carnavy Street’) – in Beardsley’s work.
An infant prodigy, Beardsley retained through the brief years of his adult life the peculiar genius of a precocious child, and Brophy, well-versed in Freudian analyses, adroitly points out the polymorphous perversity of his pictures – that perversity, coupled with his inimitable graphic/monochromatic signature, accounting for why Beardsley, however ‘high-baroque rococo’ his style, has remained endlessly modern.
Black and White is illustrated by 44 reproductions and augmented by a detailed chronology.
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