Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Aubrey Beardsley and the Inescapable Music of the Pied Piper

The story of the Pied Piper of Hameln is well known. Of all its possible interpretations, I like to think of it as an allegory of the passage from autumn to winter. In Lower Saxony, where the story is set, this period of the year is fascinating. As if under the spell of the alluring notes played by the Piper, the richness and variety of colours transform the landscape day after day.


The colours reach an indescribable intensity, reminiscent of the Piper's gaudy garment, and then fade softly, leaving only the veil of the winter frost to cover the bare arms of the trees.


It is probably not a case that the famous illustrator Aubrey Beardsley was one the many artists who have been inspired by this story. Among his very first publications, are precisely the illustrations for “The Pay of the Pied Piper” that formed part of the programme for the Christmas Entertainment at the Brighton Grammar School, in 1888.
The city of Hameln was infested by rats....
The rats follow the Piper outside the town

The Piper entices the children outside the town.

Although these were not the works that made him famous, some of the distinctive traits of his unique style are already present.

J'ai baisé ta bouche, Iokanaan - 1894

The platonic Lament - 1894

Black-and-white illustrations and a preference for grim stories.
Exaggerated garments and the recurring presence of skeleton-like figures.


The Black Cape - 1894

La Beale Isoud at Joyous Gard - 1894

These will famously become the emblematic figures of that decadent fin-de-siécle period in which Aubrey's short but intense career flourished.

Due to his weak health, Aubrey was well aware that a wintry veil would have soon covered his fragile body. And indeed, the inevitable notes of a Totentanz follow one another among the black lines of his illustrations.