Plays—Frontispiece

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A heterogeneous group of people is seen standing against a mostly black background
Frontispiece to "Plays," by John Davidson.

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The Getty Research Institute, The Internet Archive

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Description

A heterogeneous group of people is seen standing against a mostly black background depicting, in a stylized manner, the bank of a lake dotted with trees.
The figures have been identified as, from left to right: Beardsley’s sister Mabel (an actress), Henry Harland (editor of the Yellow Book), Oscar Wilde, Sir Augustus Harris (a theater manager), Richard Le Gallienne (an author), and Adeline Genée (a dancer). With the exceptions of Oscar Wilde and Sir Augustus Harris, it doesn’t seem these identities have been established beyond any doubt.

On the occasion of the publication of Plays, the Daily Chronicle printed a review criticizing Beardsley’s frontispiece for portraying Two well-known faces of the day. Bearsley replied with the following letter, which was published in the next issue:

An Error of Taste

Sir, — In your review of Mr. Davidson’s plays, I find myself convicted of an error of taste, for having introduced portraits into my frontispiece to that book. I cannot help feeling that your reviewer is unduly severe. One of the gentlemen who forms part of my decoration is surely beautiful enough to stand the test even of portraiture, the other owes me half a crown.

I am, yours truly,

Aubrey Beardsley.

114 Cambridge Street, S.W.

March 1, 1894.

The reference to the gentleman who “owes me half a crown” was probably aimed at Sir Augustus Harris, the administrator of the Covent Garden, who was in the unfortunate habit of selling more tickets than the theater could accommodate people. The story has it that on one occasion, Beardsley came to find his seat already taken.

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