“HIS STRONGEST ILLUSTRATIONS”: LIMITED, FIRST ONE-VOLUME EDITION OF BEARDSLEY’S ILLUSTRATED KING ARTHUR
MALORY, Sir Thomas. The Birth, Life and Acts of King Arthur… [London: J.M. Dent], 1909. Thick quarto, mid-20th century three-quarter brown morocco gilt, raised bands, marbled boards, top edge gilt, uncut. $2000.
Limited second edition, the first one-volume edition, of Beardsley's magnificently illustrated Le Morte D'Arthur, one of only 1500 copies printed, handsomely bound.
A standout among many late Victorian illustrated versions of Malory's Arthurian masterpiece (first published 1485), the Morte Darthur published in parts by J.M. Dent (1893-94) "contained 21 full-page illustrations and 585 headings, borders, initials and ornaments 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). His work 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). This second edition, which is also the first one-volume edition, contains ten of Beardsley's chapter headings inadvertently omitted from the first. Title page incorrectly dated, in Roman numerals, 1899 (Lasner 22B). Armorial bookplate of Spencer Penrose, Colorado mining entrepreneur and philanthropist. Evidence of library ticket removal to front pastedown, library blindstamp to title page.
Interior crisp and clean. Binding with mild soiling and light toning to spine. A handsome volume in very nearly fine condition.