London, South Kensington
18 December 2008
Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872-1898)
Incipit Vita Nova: Here begins a new life
pencil, pen and black ink and bodycolour, on brown paper
8 x 7¾ in. (20.3 x 19.7 cm.)
with Dr. and Mrs. Nicholas S. Pickard and by descent.
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Brian Reade, Aubrey Beardsley, New York, Viking Press, 1967, no. 269, pl.273.
Kansas City, Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Anatomy and Art, 1956.
Japan, Aubrey Beardsley: A Centenary Retrospective in Japan, 1998.
There is some question over the date of this work, but it is generally believed to have been produced circa 1892. Stylistically it is similar to Beardsley's drawings for the Bon Mots and for Oscar Wilde's play Salome which he produced in 1893 and 1894 respectively. Motifs such as the distinctive clouds above the two figures, the roses and the female face are found in many of his later works, and the two-dimensionality of the composition, which demonstrates the influence of Japanese prints, was to become a central aspect of Beardsley's style.
The stylised depiction of the female figure in the present work is an overt reference to the Pre- Raphaelites and the particular notion of ideal beauty that was associated with this movement. However, Beardsley accentuates the facial characteristics of the woman to such an extent that whilst they still allude to this ideal they also border on the grotesque. This sentiment is continued in the scowling foetus figure, the embodiment of a new beginning, who points to the words 'Incipit Vita Nova'. The complex interplay of ideas associated with life, death and art are delivered emphatically by Beardsley's strong composition and restrained palette.
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