Arts London Preview

Arts of the UK 2021: Exhibition of rare Aubrey Beardsley collection to re-launch Shapero Rare Books on New Bond Street

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LONDON – Renowned draughtsman and illustrator Aubrey Beardsley shocked and thrilled audiences with his decadent monochrome drawings. This important collection, started by Rainforth Armitage Walker and continued by W. G. Good, comprises all the major works in the artist’s canon and is the most comprehensive collection of Beardsley’s printed works ever assembled. Exploring the outlandish, the comical, the stylish and the erotic, Beardsley’s distinctive style is instantly recognisable.

Shapero Rare Books on New Bond Street will display this incredible collection for sale featuring Beardsley’s most important works, alongside his earlier works, books from the artist’s own library, rare books about the Decadent and Aesthetic movements, unexpurgated proofs and other collectable works. The collection is nearly one hundred years old and remains in exceptional condition.

Aubrey Beardsley’s magnum opus Le Morte d’Arthur is one of the highlights of the collection. This rare edition of the Arthurian legend features epic and beautiful renderings of the story of the death of Arthur, in which Beardsley incorporates Aestheticism, eroticism and the spirit of the Decadent movement to create a stunning visual and tactile work. Also part of the exhibition will be an extremely rare illustrated first edition of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, from W. G. Good’s library. Wilde himself makes a cameo in several of Beardsley’s gorgeous illustrations, which met with the author’s approval.

The last work ever undertaken by Beardsley, collected by W. G. Good, was to be an illustrated edition of Ben Jonson’s 17th -century satirical work Volpone, or The Fox. Initially intended to have 25 designs by the artist, only one full-page illustration was completed as Beardsley’s health deteriorated. Volpone Adoring his Treasure was used as the frontispiece for the edition, and is widely considered one of Beardsley’s greatest works. The artist himself called it ‘one of the strongest things I have ever done’.

Rainforth Armitage Walker (born 1886) developed an interest in the then recently deceased artist Aubrey Beardsley. He became a passionate collector of Beardsley’s works, studying them in detail order to expose the many forgeries that were appearing in the early 20th century. Walker’s collection of the artist’s drawings formed the basis of the National Gallery’s 1923-24 Beardsley exhibition. As his health deteriorated in the 1950s, Walker passed custodial ownership of his Beardsley collection to his friend and fellow collector W. G. Good, who developed the collection further, with the expanded collection contributing to the V&A 1966 Beardsley exhibition. The result of Walker and Good’s curatorial and bibliographical efforts is a collection of Beardsley’s art in print without equal.

Bernard Shapero, CEO of Shapero Rare Books, comments: “The Walker-Good collection provides an exceptional opportunity to experience the full scope of Aubrey Beardsley’s all-too-short career as an illustrator and artist, from his earliest works when he was still at school through to the final, unfinished works showcasing the evolution of an epic ambition and imagination.”

Aubrey Beardsley: The R.A. Walker and W.G. Good Collection opens from 13th May at Shapero Rare Books, 105 and 106 New Bond Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 1DN. More information available here

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