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  • Writer's pictureBrock Lane

Aubrey Beardsley: The Eccentric, Victorian-Era, Englishman Illustrator Who Died Too Young

The work of late English Illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley, is not for everyone...

Erotic fart aubrey beardsley illustration artwork 1970s vintage hippie belt buckle

This belt buckle is one in a larger series of pieces manufactured by Indiana Metal Craft in the mid-1970s. The crude image was adapted from Beardsley's illustrated print of Aristophanes' comedy, Lysistrata, a Greek play in which women from opposing city-states withhold sexual

privileges from their husbands as a means to end the Peloponnesian War. In this scene Lysistrata and her allies defend the men's access to the acropolis... by farts. There are about a dozen other examples of belt buckles that co-opted Beardsley's work from various sources. The accomplished artist collaborated with prominent writers of his time, such as Oscar Wilde, and also illustrated new editions of classic literature, plays, and poetry.

The world of art is a one where diverse styles and expressions flourish, allowing for a wide variety of tastes. English Illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), died young at the age 25, but left an indelible mark on the Aesthetic movement and Art Nouveau style. While his work might not resonate with everyone... it is undoubtedly captivating.

"The Masque of the Red Death"--illustration  for Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tales of Mystery and the Imagination,” Circa 1895
"The Masque of the Red Death"

Aubrey Beardsley's Enigmatic Art

Aubrey Beardsley, a young and prodigious Englishman born on August 21, 1872, navigated the artistic landscape of the late Victorian era with audacity and creativity. His black-and-white illustrations, which would later become iconic, were more than just artistic expressions—they were bold statements that challenged the prevailing norms of his time.

Emerging during the Aesthetic movement and the Art Nouveau style, Beardsley's work was not simply a reflection of his artistic prowess but a deliberate departure from convention. His inclination towards themes of decadence, sensuality, and even the macabre raised eyebrows, igniting conversations about the boundaries of art's capacity to provoke and challenge societal norms.

Tragically, Beardsley's artistic journey was cut short at the tender age of 25, when he succumbed to tuberculosis on March 16, 1898. However, even in his abbreviated career, he managed to leave an indelible mark on the world of art. His collaborations with prominent writers of his time, such as Oscar Wilde, demonstrated his multidisciplinary approach to creativity. The illustrations he created for Wilde's play "Salome" were among his most controversial yet captivating works, showcasing his ability to amplify the narrative power of words through visual art.

Portrait of victorian-era illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley
Portrait of victorian-era illustrator, Aubrey Beardsley

Despite his untimely death, Beardsley's artistic vision continued to influence subsequent generations. His provocative style paved the way for new avenues of artistic expression, inspiring those who dared to explore the unconventional. Beardsley's legacy can be seen in the trajectory of Art Nouveau and beyond, with echoes of his boldness reverberating through the works of artists who sought to challenge artistic norms.

A Fusion of Art and Fashion: The Belt Buckle Connection

Fantasy Buckles & The Hippie Era

In the early 1970s, the belt buckle manufacturer Indiana Metal Craft (IMC) in Bloomington, IN, embraced Beardsley's artistic style to create a series of 3D sculptural adaptations from his illustrations. These adaptations showcased the seamless fusion of fine art and fashion, transforming his works into functional pieces that could be worn and admired.

Indiana Metal Craft (IMC) 1970s Fantasy Art Belt Buckles
Examples of the IMC-Beardsley Belt Buckle Series

The Beardsley-inspired belt buckles created by Indiana Metal Craft were a intricate blend of fantasy art and wearable design, that were easily accepted by the Hippies & Flower Children of the 1970s. These buckles not only encapsulated the essence of Beardsley's intricate illustrations but also breathed life into them by transforming them into tangible, three-dimensional forms. The adaptability of Beardsley's work to the realm of fashion illustrated the enduring appeal and versatility of his artistic vision.

Indiana Metal Craft Bloomington, IN logo

A Hidden Tribute

Delving deeper into the buckles, it's apparent that the minds behind Indiana Metal Craft had a deeper appreciation of the young Englishman's artwork. On the reverse side of each piece, there was the IMC copyright, a design number (starting with "AB" shorthand for the artist's initials), and also "Beardsley" imprinted into the pewter. But at the center of each buckle is also a round seal with a long-haired woman hand gesturing at the viewer. And, this round seal which was IMC's logo, was used on all of their early belt buckle designs (not just the Beardsley buckle series) .

It turns out, the logo is also derived from a Beardsley illustration, specifically a printed version of Sir Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur." It recounts the Arthurian legends, including the tales of King Arthur, his knights, the Round Table, and the quest for the Holy Grail. The work is divided into several books, chronicling the rise and fall of King Arthur's kingdom, his battles against rival knights, his love for Queen Guinevere, and the eventual tragedy that befalls the Round Table. The illustration occurs on one of the book's small chapter headings.

Sir Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur." IMC Belt Buckle Logo

This logo was used on all of IMC's early belt buckle designs (not just the Beardsley series). This "Easter egg" connection demonstrates the profound admiration that IMC's founders held for Beardsley's art and highlights the extent to which his unique style left an indelible mark on creative minds across different domains.


Tragically, Beardsley's artistic journey was cut short by tuberculosis, leaving behind a legacy that continues to captivate art enthusiasts and scholars. However, the legacy of Indiana Metal Craft endures. While the belt buckle series was just one manifestation of their creative collaboration with Beardsley's art, the company has been producing various belt buckles for 50 years. Today they've expanded their, product line to include medallions, plaques, and more.

Aubrey Beardsley's artistic vision was undoubtedly unconventional and not universally appreciated, but its uniqueness is what made it enduring. From the realm of high art to unexpected adaptations in fashion accessories like belt buckles, Beardsley's influence has proven to be both diverse and timeless. The Indiana Metal Craft's adaptation of his art showcased the malleability of creative expression and the remarkable ways in which art can transcend traditional boundaries.

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About the Author:

Brock Lane has an MS in Applied economics and operates multiple shops on Etsy, eBay, and Shopify. He maintains an inventory of over 10,000 rare and unique belt buckles, leather belts, and other goods. He leverages his sales history and professional background to write about trends in online retail marketplaces. Brock is an eBay affiliate and earns commission from linked products & shops.

Shop for vintage belt buckles on Brock's Etsy Shop

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