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I Found it in the Bathroom: The Discovery of a Long Lost Aubrey Beardsley Drawing

Aubrey Beardsley Drawing

Beardsley, Aubrey (1872-1898) and Wilde, Oscar (1854-1900), The Climax, Important original illustration for Salome: A Tragedy in One Act, published in 1894. Auctioned for $213,300

Not all family heirlooms grace the grand entranceway of a home or hang over the fireplace mantel. Some are more obscure—so obscure in fact, that even their owners don’t know what they are or that they are valuable.

The best appraisers know this from years of visiting homes and making the most unexpected discoveries. It’s not unusual for me to visit a home for the purposes of appraising one item, and then suddenly discover a hidden gem worth far more. This is the stuff that antiques lore is made of: it’s why we as appraisers look at each day like an amazing treasure hunt, and it’s why people tune into television appraisal programs—they too want to witness the moment of sweet discovery.

Attics, basements, hallway closets, guest bedrooms, garages and even bathrooms often house overlooked and long forgotten objects—objects that because they were assumed to be of little importance, have been tucked away, protected from light, handled little, and rarely fussed with, so their integrity and original condition is often intact.

One of my favorite discoveries happened on a routine house call in the Boston area. I happened to pass by the bathroom and notice an interesting black and white art nouveau print hanging on the wall. As an art nouveau devotee and an appraiser of rare books and manuscripts, it caught my eye instantly. It was an iconic image by an iconic artist of the art nouveau period. Always an admirer of the image, I stopped and looked closer, then removed the picture from its hook on the wall, looking closer still.

Aubrey Beardsley Drawing

Beardsley, Aubrey (1872-1898) and Wilde, Oscar (1854-1900), A Platonic Lament, Important original illustration for Salome: A Tragedy in One Act, published in 1894. Auctioned for $142,200

My heart raced and I nearly fell over when I realized that what I was holding in my hands was no print. It was an incredibly rare thing: The Climax, an original pen and ink drawing by famed British Art Nouveau illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. Looking around for better light, I spotted another one on the opposite wall! This one was entitled A Platonic Lament, and both were illustrations for Beardsley’s interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, published in 1894.

Aubrey Beardsley was perhaps the most influential and controversial artist of the Art Nouveau era, known for his dark, perverse images and grotesque erotica. His works are the Holy Grail for Art Nouveau enthusiasts and book collectors alike. Intensely eccentric, in both his public and private life, Beardsley aligned himself with other English aesthetes including Oscar Wilde. Since he died at the early age of 25 of tuberculosis, Beardsley’s works are as rare as they are beautiful.

How on earth did these famous drawings end up in a Boston area bathroom? After being exhibited in Europe, the drawings were held in private collection for many years and were sold at auction in 1926. Nine of the thirteen rare illustrations were eventually donated to the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, but four went missing.

Until the day I found one of them in that bathroom, the whereabouts of the Aubrey Beardsley drawings had remained a mystery for more than eighty years. Beardsley’s The Climax fetched $213,300 at auction, sailing past the previous record for a Beardsley drawing of $159,600. The second Beardsley illustration, A Platonic Lament sold for $142,200. They both sold to the same collector, who was absolutely thrilled.

I’m still in search of those other two missing Beardsley drawings and hopeful that one day I might again be lucky enough to stumble upon them. Extraordinary items can be found in the most ordinary of places. Yes, even the bathroom.

18 thoughts on “I Found it in the Bathroom: The Discovery of a Long Lost Aubrey Beardsley Drawing

  1. How do you know if a Beardsley is an original? I have two that I aquired from an artist’s collection. The artsit that owned these pieces died in the early 1930’s.

    • I have one it’s called the Climax, though it has the writings on it and am wondering if it’s part of the original works or not it is framed and under glass. Any information will be helpful, found with my families things.

  2. I also own a signed Aubrey Beardsley drawing, it looks like it was drawn on white glass. Would you know if he ever did anything like that? It’s a drawing of Ali baba

    • The authentication process with Beardsley drawings all goes through the current expert on Beardsley, Linda Zatlin. She is just finishing the definitive book listing all known Aubrey Beardsley drawings and is widely considered the final word on Beardsley authenticity. Remember that Beardsley was well known and highly admired by many during the early part of the 20th century. As such, many aspiring artists directly copied his works or created drawings in his style (and signed his name). When I found these two drawings I took them to Linda Zatlin as well as Harvard University to comapare them with the other known documented drawings. Needless to say, they passed with flying colors! As to drawings on glass, I am unaware of any such drawings by Beardsley using this medium. However, a trip to Linda Zatlin’s new book may yield some additional information.

  3. i have a mirror rough 3ft by 2ft in old wooden frame there is a painting of a lady reading on a stripped sofa with a parrot in the corner is a black and white image except her dress which is red

  4. I have two of these. one is a half dressed woman sitting at a table
    with her hand to her hair. Peacock designs on her dress.

    the other one is of two woman with muffed hats and muffed hand(s) warmers on and one is overlooking a banister into the trees the other is facing sideways.

    Both signed Aubrey Beardsley

  5. Do you know anything about Aubrey Beardsley prints reproduced by the British Museum and the Fogg art museum as I have three of them.

  6. I have had two Beardsley prints for thirty-five years, they are framed , and a couple of years ago
    they were re-framed with a non-glare glass. The one print is of a woman who is topless. and a
    gargoyle type musician to her side. The second print has a ‘Venus’ with a female attendant on
    each side . I searched online with moderate success, I suspect they are reproduction’s and have
    little ‘value, THe person who gave them to me as a wedding present is deceased, so any information
    as to where and hoe is ‘gone’. Can you help direct me to a source, I live in Western New York state.

    Thank you for your time.

    • Ronald, Without examining them myself, I can’t tell whether the prints are reproductions or originals. If you’d like to supply some photographs and measurements through an evaluation form, I may be able to help you.

  7. I live in an old home and while cleaning out my attic, under much dust, found an Aubrey Beardsly (Ali Baba) in an old frame. How can I tell if it is in fact an original… or one of the first copies? It has a bit of texture to it.

  8. I have a drawing of a neophyte its in pencil brown ink and uneven black paint not signed and not complete who can i get to look at it please

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