The Savoy magazine


Further retrievals from the depths of the Internet Archive (and thanks to Lord Cornelius Plum for the tip) come in the form of three bound editions of The Savoy magazine, a British art and literary periodical which ran for eight issues from January to December 1896. Aubrey Beardsley was art editor and chief illustrator, Arthur Symons the literary editor and the publisher was the heroic and duplicitous London pornographer Leonard Smithers whose patronage and, it should be noted, exploitation of Beardsley’s work kept the artist solvent during his last two years.

A thesis could be written (and no doubt has been) exploring the curious symbiosis between pornography publishers and the artistic avant garde. Smithers was a proud purveyor of what he called “smut” but he also complained about all the money he lost supporting poets and down-at-heel writers. Posterity can thank him for publishing Teleny, the classic early work of gay fiction attributed to Oscar Wilde, as well as Beardsley’s Lysistrata illustrations and The Savoy, a magazine founded in the fallout of the Wilde scandal when The Yellow Book dropped Beardsley from its staff in order to appease its more conservative contributors. The magazine’s run was short due to poor sales after WH Smith’s refused to stock it, worried again about the controversial nature of Beardsley’s art. (Speculative fiction magazine New Worlds faced similar problems with Smith’s in the late Sixties.) This seems astonishing to us now when looking at the world-class roster of contributors to the first issue, a list which included two future Nobel winners—George Bernard Shaw and WB Yeats—as well as Max Beerbohm, Ernest Dowson, Havelock Ellis, JM Whistler, Charles Shannon, William Rothenstein, and Beardsley writing and illustrating the first part of his erotic caprice, Under the Hill.

Beardsley’s illustrations are very familiar from book reproduction but it’s good to see them in the context in which they first appeared, and to be able to read some of the features. The later issues include pages of adverts which always fascinate for their contemporary detail.

The Savoy: Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Aubrey Beardsley archive
The illustrators archive



Both issues of Wyndham Lewis’s avant garde art and literature journal can be found in a collection of similar publications from the Modernist years at Brown University here and here. I’ve always liked the bold graphics of Lewis and his fellow Vorticists, and BLAST 2, “the War Number”, is especially good in that regard. The MJP site reminds us that BLAST is still under copyright control outside the US and is also available in facsimile editions from Gingko Press.

BLAST was the quintessential modernist little magazine. Founded by Wyndham Lewis, with the assistance of Ezra Pound, it ran for just two issues, published in 1914 and 1915. The First World War killed it, along with some of its key contributors. Its purpose was to promote a new movement in literature and visual art, christened Vorticism by Pound and Lewis. Unlike its immediate predecessors and rivals, Vorticism was English, rather than French or Italian, but its dogmas emerged from Imagism in literature and Cubism plus Futurism in visual art.

The original BLAST was published by Aubrey Beardsley’s first publisher, John Lane, and it’s fascinating to see Lane advertising back issues of The Yellow Book in pages which include Lewis’s anti-Victorian polemic. Meanwhile I’m still waiting for copies of the Art Nouveau journal Ver Sacrum to turn up somewhere. If anyone runs across quality scans, please leave a comment.

Via Things Magazine.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Wyndham Lewis: Portraits

Merely fanciful or grotesque


Thus the judgement of a reviewer examining Aubrey Beardsley’s work in The Graphic for May 23, 1896. The work in question was Beardsley’s Rape of the Lock illustrations being unveiled for the first time in the second number of The Savoy, the magazine which Beardsley co-founded with Arthur Symons and Leonard Smithers as a rival to the staid Yellow Book, also reviewed in the same column. Beardsley’s illustrations for Pope are now considered some of his very finest works and it’s difficult from our perspective to find any grotesquery there at all. It may be a reference to The Cave of Spleen, a drawing which saw the brief return of Beardsley’s earlier foetus creatures and a work to which some of Harry Clarke’s style would seem to owe a debt. In which case the reviewer should have been grateful to be spared the giant phalluses of The Lysistrata which Aubrey was also drawing for Smithers at this time.

The column above is one of many mentions of Beardsley and company to be found at the British Library’s new online archive of 19th century British newspapers. What might be a treasure trove is compromised slightly for me by being a collection of newspapers only, rather than magazines. A magazine database would give us all of The Savoy and The Yellow Book, as well as other titles which featured the work of fin de siècle illustrators. Patience is the key here, with every passing year more of the past becomes easily accessible.

So now, given the quantity of references there’s likely to be, dare I search for Oscar Wilde?

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Aubrey Beardsley archive

Aubrey by John Selwyn Gilbert


Aubrey Beardsley photographed by Frederick Evans (1894).

I’ve been going through the Coulthart VHS library recently, transferring to DVD recordings which can’t be purchased or found online. Among these is a drama from the BBC’s Playhouse strand, Aubrey by John Selwyn Gilbert, broadcast in 1982. This follows the life of artist Aubrey Beardsley from the time of Oscar Wilde’s arrest in April 1895—which event resulted in Beardsley losing his position at The Yellow Book—through the foundation of The Savoy magazine, to his tubercular death in March 1898.


John Dicks as Aubrey.

Playhouse was a BBC 2 equivalent of Play for Today (which usually ran on BBC 1) and Aubrey like many other dramas of the period was shot on video in the studio. This was done for convenience as well as being cheaper than shooting on film, since scenes could be filmed using several cameras simultaneously. The drawback is that the image looks very harsh, and historical works such as this often seem unreal and artificial as a result. That aside, this was an excellent production with some great performances, especially Ronald Lacey as Leonard Smithers and Rula Lenska as Aubrey’s sister, Mabel. The details of Beardsley’s life are very accurate, down to his beloved Mantegna prints on the walls, and many of the scenes are arranged to correspond with his drawings, the production design being largely monochrome.

Continue reading “Aubrey by John Selwyn Gilbert”

T&H: At the Sign of the Dolphin


James Joyce and his World (1978).

dolphins.jpgDespite my earlier statement about not being much of a collector, today’s book purchase (above) was enough to confirm some well-established patterns (obsessions, even) that should make me reconsider any hasty pronouncements. Not so much for the subject in this case—I already have enough books by and about James Joyce—the significant thing here is the three magic words on the cover: Thames and Hudson. The sight of Joyce’s name on the spine above the old T&H dolphin logo (signifying the two rivers that comprise the company’s name; or maybe a discourse between London and New York via the Atlantic) was enough to demand further investigation. I realised I’d been hoping to eventually find this book after seeing it listed in the back of its companion title, Beardsley and his World by Brigid Brophy. Both books form part of a series that T&H produced in the Seventies, a collection of heavily illustrated mini-biographies of writers, with the odd artist among them. Very worthwhile they are too, with lots of photographs, paintings or drawings of the people and places relevant to their subjects’ lives.

Continue reading “T&H: At the Sign of the Dolphin”