Birth, Life and Acts of King Arthur

Aubrey BEARDSLEY   |   Thomas MALORY

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“HIS STRONGEST ILLUSTRATIONS”: 1893-94 FIRST EDITION OF BEARDSLEY’S KING ARTHUR, HIS FIRST ILLUSTRATED BOOK

MALORY, Thomas. The Birth, Life and Acts of King Arthur, Of His Noble Knights of the Round Table… (London: J.M. Dent), 1893-4. Two volumes. Quarto, original ivory cloth, beveled edges, elaborately gilt-decorated with Beardsley designs, top edges gilt, uncut and partly unopened.

First edition of Aubrey Beardsley’s magnificently illustrated version of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, one of only 1500 copies of the two-volume issue, with 16 full-page and four double-page illustrations, 43 borders, and 288 in-text decorations.

"William Morris' view of a book as a unified work of art with all the visual elements in harmony… resulted in the production of several profusely decorated Malorys, generally in limited editions. An immediate response to the Kelmscott books was J.M. Dent's Morte Darthur (1893-94)," containing 20 illustrations and numerous decorations and embellishments "by the then-unknown Aubrey Beardsley. Though a Burne-Jones influence was evident in the early chapters, Beardsley soon developed the Art Nouveau style characterized by whiplash line, abstract floral motifs and starkly contrasted black-and-white forms. Far more original was his treatment of content, for his knights, lethargic and spiritless, are completely dominated by their mistresses and the fays. Far from glorifying chivalric romance, Beardsley satirized it, shocking Victorian sensibilities with his effeminate heroes, androgynous nudes, lecherous satyrs and sensual angels" (Lacy, 46). The text follows William Caxton's edition (published 1485) of Thomas Malory's classic. This, Beardsley's first illustrated book, won him "instant recognition and the artistic leadership of a decade often known as the 'Beardsley period… The Malory drawings are his strongest illustrations" (The Artist and the Book 16). Originally published in two issues, both in 12 separate parts: 300 numbered copies in gray wrappers, printed on Van Gelder paper (later bound in three volumes, usually full vellum); and 1500 copies in green wrappers (later bound in two gilt-decorated cloth volumes, as here, featuring Beardsley designs on the spines and boards). Beardsley's death four years later cut his brilliant career tragically short. Lasner 22. Bookplates.

Interiors lightly embrowned. Inner paper hinges partly split; bindings sound. Cloth slightly darkened and soiled, bright gilt only lightly rubbed. An extremely good copy of the scarce first edition of this beautiful production.

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