The Beardsley Phenomenon

Portraits of Aubrey Beardsley 1:Sepia Print (1890 ) 2: Self Portrait ( 1892) 3: Painting by Jacques Emile Blanche (1895)

It takes some boldness to upstage Oscar Wilde, but young Aubrey Beardsley achieved that. His drawings for Wilde’s play Salome stole the show. They snatched attention away from Wilde himself and though Wilde was generous to Bearsdley, he was not pleased. Sneaky satirical depictions appeared in the drawings of Wilde’s face as a bloated and bleary-eyed moon.

Aubrey Beardsley (1872- 1898) was a spunky character with sun sign Leo, Moon in Aries, and a Capricorn Ascendant. That is plenty of fire to astonish people, combined with practical earth to get the job done. There is little in Air, so he didn’t rationalize much, just went ahead with his plans; and there is little in Water, so he was acutely unsentimental. That made him the standout artist of the late 19th century and the preeminent illustrator of his age. He defined a period of so called ‘decadence’ while at the same time being one of its main players.

It is curious -but not so curious for astrologers –  that Beardsley’s work has resurfaced this corona season. There is a collection of his drawings at the Tate Britain, the first in 50 years, and a TV biography  Beauty and Scandal by Bearsdley-fan, Mark Gatiss, of whom more later. The Jupiter/Pluto/Saturn stellium has just transited Beardsley’s Ascendant at 18 degrees of Capricorn, so once again he is being acknowledged as a master of black ink lines. In fact Saturn was exact on this degree three times during 2019 probably during its planning, and Beardsley’s chart completed a fifth Saturn Return. This is mind-boggling when you consider that he did not even reach his first Saturn Return.

I have not given any thought to Beardsley for decades but as a student did a study on his work, and in the month that Venus goes Retrograde in Gemini, here I am writing about him again, so there is a ‘blast from the past’  retro art feel to Beardsley popping up again. Beardsley’s North Node is at 8 degrees of Gemini. And though the exhibition ends May 25th, Venus will reach that point on 13-14 June and again on July 8-9th so these days may be retweets of interest in Beardsley to punctuate why he resurfaced in the first place.The day the exhibition began, March 4th , Venus was conjunct Beardsley’s natal Neptune in Aries. What is new is that since the lockdown this exhibition has had to go online only- very Venus in Gemini, perhaps the first in a series of transfers from the 3D experience of an exhibition to the audio-visual via the internet. His Mercury is well placed in Virgo along with Venus, so the finesse of his artistic technique is on display, as there is an economy of line as fine as needlework in his artistic style. And Venus indeed is the esoteric ruler of Gemini which equates to love of knowledge and learning but also artistry through the hands.

How King Arthur Saw The Questing Beast Aubrey Beardsley (1894)

His drawings in pen and ink that require a detailed eye and a precision of execution that he clearly mastered. What’s interesting too is that a Leo sun sign illustrated the typically ‘heroic’ narratives and struggles:  Seigfried,  Perseus, Tristan, King Arthur, and even Salome is a side story in the eventual death of Jesus.  It appeared that he zeroed in on stories that are archetypes of the sun and borne out of solar cult traditions.

But also his death reminds us that Beardsley died of a long-standing respiratory disease, Tuberculosis (TB), the aerobiology of which is difficult to stop. To set it in context and as a reference to actual deaths, there were 1.5 million deaths worldwide from TB as recently as 2018. It is a bacterium not a virus and was once called ‘the plague of plagues’. It is as though Beardsley has come back to remind us of this and to keep perspective. In fact, a new study has just revealed that  incidence of TB increases due to prolonged lockdowns as the focus is in the wrong place and there’s no access to treatment. So TB proliferates exponentially up to 150 times more than Covid deaths. These dangers we have yet to face. Back in 1898, TB was thought to be incurable and treatments were unavailable. Warm climates were suggested and those helped, but to this day it is still resistant to drugs. Towards the end of his life, Beardsley complained of the endless daily creaking of his lungs. He was 25 when he died.

Drawings from Salome Aubrey Beardsley (1894)

With a career of barely six years, he worked super-fast as he knew he was dying of TB. His ambition and eye for an opportunity kicked in early when he was bold enough to visit Edward Burne-Jones’ studio in Fulham. Burne-Jones famously said Beardsley had the talent to be a great artist and praised Beardsley’s work.  Young Aubrey did not lack confidence to promote himself to publishers and to Oscar Wilde himself aged only 20 when he heard about the play Salome needing an illustrator. He had an eye for the opportunities and seized them fast. 

With Saturn on the Ascendant in its own sign we would expect a disciplined master of his craft and have a heightened awareness of how he appeared in public so he was a dandy in his clothing style, wearing elegant suits, now imitated by Drag Kings, and he claimed to draw only at night to two Ormulu (an amalgam of Mercury and gold) candlesticks. All this added to the PR. It produced the desired electrifying Beardsley-esque effect that he wanted. His women seemed to not care about men which was new and different. The sinuous lines combine with funky-little details; and the purity of technique, its lack of sentimentality, sits strangely at odds with the impurity of content as Stephen Fry says. Beardsley’s Mars and Uranus together in Leo loved sparking a spitfire drama, and Beardsley loved to provoke scandal and was thrilled by it. The stellium of planets in Leo include Mars, Uranus, Jupiter, and the Sun. It’s as if he saw the world as a stage for him to play on, so he made a startling cameo entrance in life and in London, and then a quick exit. Cue stupendous applause.

The Wagnerites Aubrey Beardsley (1894)

His style was uniquely his own, but there’s a thoroughly absorbed understanding of the flat shapes, use of negative space and bold linearity of Japanese Shunga ‘Erotic’ woodcuts. These incidentally flooded into Europe for the first time in the 19th century. The event that triggered Japanese art into Europe came during  the same period that all the Asteroid muses were discovered 1854-1863. To say the Japanese aesthetic had a major influence is an understatement. He made it his own influencing artists such as Austin Osman Spare.

Even the first retrospective of Beardsley’s striking black ink drawings at the V&A exhibition in May 1966 caused a sensation with some drawings being withheld and said to be pornographic. The Sun and Moon were both in Taurus and Jupiter was at 01 of Cancer in its exalted position, perhaps explaining how this triggered a Beardsley revival. He was revived from the history books. Venus was in Aries transiting over Beardsley’s natal Moon/Chiron at 14 degrees.  His style is still modern- very sixties- and in its unflinching gaze at the world – it satirized his subjects, but it was but also elegant, razor-sharp and sexually free.

Natal Chart Aubrey Beardsley 21 August 1872 (astrotheme.com)

The muse asteroids are worth checking in the life of any artist. Thalia is the muse of Comedy and Cartoonists and she is conjunct Beardsley’s Ascendant at 26 Capricorn. Beardsley was definitely a Satirist, and hardworking one at that, commenting maliciously on the morals of his age. His detachment was complete from all he observed as he never had a relationship and was thought to be asexual and/or celibate. So it is very apt that Thalia is so prominent.  His was a comic genius that was able to disturb as much as entertain. At the same time the other muse that jumps out in this chart is Terpsichore associated with dance and the body is the signature muse for all bodywork practitioners including sex workers, and Beardsley delighted in depicting the human body, often in its grotesque proportions to the point of being obscene. Terpsichore is on his MC at 22 degrees of Scorpio the sign associated with sex and death. He was able to  pinpoint human foibles in a way that pushed the limit. No one had gone as far as he did since Greek vases outlined satyrs with gigantic penises.

Vera Historia by Aubrey Beardsley (1894)

I rarely overlook the death of an artist, not out of morbid curiosity, but to examine what the astrological correlations are. Plus, I felt his death contains a message. When Beardsley died in Menton on March 16th  in 1898, Pluto/Neptune in Gemini opposed his Mars/Uranus in Sagittarius.  That is quite potent enough to trigger a farewell to life, but just to add n the locational map for Beardsley Mars/Uranus are close to Menton, near Nice, in Nice, south of France. The Pluto line divides up the whole of France and crosses his Saturn line just north east of London. The North Node also was conjoining his Ascendant in Capricorn and thus South Node on the descendant in Canvcer hinting at karmic pasts- he had completed his task on Earth.

Mark Gatiss in ‘Beauty and Scandal’ BBC4 (2020)

So why is that Mark Gatss has put together an assessment of Aubrey Beardsley called Beauty and Scandal? No surprises really as they are both lovers of the grotesque.  Who can forget the bizarre League of Gentlemen TV series which was as dark as humour ever gets? Beardsley said“I have one aim – the grotesque. If I am not grotesque, I am nothing.” He claimed that is exactly how he saw people so for him that was realism. Gatiss has also made several documentaries on the history of Horror films, all worth a look as he is something of a connoisseur of the twisted and macabre. His muse asteroid Melpomene, muse of tragedy, resides in Scorpio conjunct this Mercury- so he goes happily into darker territory than most. His Jupiter conjuncts Beardsley’s Mars Uranus in Leo. So I see this as allowing him to be the promoter, expanding Beardsley’s reputation even more.

So again Beardsley is spiralling back to us now for several reasons: the Saturn Return emphasis on his Ascendant at the Pluto/Saturn point, that he was an Illustrator’s illustrator; his death is a reminder, lest we forget, that some diseases are even deadlier than Covid; and the very Venus-in-Gemini emphasis that art exhibitions have have to go online and the guest book is now an interactive chatroom. But all this is not to forget the sheer skill, technique and artistry of a young upstart from Brighton who had the nerve to challenge Oscar Wilde- and that can be celebrated while we are still at home obsessed by images on screens.

© Proteus Astrology, May 16th, 2020. All rights reserved.

Head Piece for Le Morte D’Arthur Aubrey Beardsley (1893)

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Kieron is a London-based and trained astrologer at Proteus Astrology on Facebook:

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Published by Kieron Devlin

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