Aubrey Beardsley and a few other select souls began The Savoy magazine in 1896, shortly after the artistic demise of the Yellow Book (physically, it continued – naughty in color only – until 1897). Aubrey had been summarily released from his artistic duties in 1895, after the debacle of Wilde vs. Queensberry. Having used his depraved and blessed talent to illustrate Wilde’s play ‘Salome’ – there was born in the public’s febrile imagination an artistic friendship between the two (actually, they rather disliked each other). Society’s ignorance had made sure that Oscar Wilde was safely out of the way at Reading Gaol, and that Aubrey Beardsley was out of a job. The new, yellow literature had been deserted; the season of scandal had ended.
Aubrey Beardsley drowned 19th century aesthetics in decadence, in the hothouse breathlessness of a corrupt garden. He had two years to live and the thick, debauched creativity ran like an urgent river through his tubercular blood. The Savoy was born out of this resentment and panic – but lived for only one year. He drew each of the covers – perfect, shocking – with the premiere issue that indicated his state of mind: it featured a tiny, nude putto preparing to urinate on a copy of The Yellow Book. (it was edited out immediately, but this Aubrey always found it quite marvelous)
Hidden inside of issue number 1 was a delicate gift; a greeting – a welcome. It was a Christmas card designed by Beardsley, an illustration that lifted the Mother and Child from their poverty and shepherds and transported them to a forest chilly with the verdant shadows of centaurs and druids. Her robe did not glow with crescent moons and lilies; rather it was rich with emblems of the earth – leaves and flowers – and beheld a curving hem trimmed with fur. She had become a pre-Raphaelite maiden with loose, immodest hair – sitting in a cold, green world: lost in a flourishing land.
Was Arthur Symons, the publisher, pleased with Beardsley’s portrait of this spiritual family? Or did the Virgin’s androgeny and low-cut gown disturb him? Did he only recognize the seductive history of the roses that breathed so close to her – or was he aware of her other name, ‘The Mystic Rose’? Did he think it right that the Child wore a Victorian gentleman’s shirt?
I have a pretty good idea of what his opinion was. But it matters not. Because this Aubrey finds it quite marvelous.
Happy Christmas, my marvelous, ethereal, unknown friends.