Sibling revelry: was Aubrey Beardsley’s sister his ...

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Sibling revelry: was Aubrey Beardsley’s sister his cross-dressing muse?

The decadent artist was inseparable from the elegant Mabel. She might just be the key to his fantasy world

Gaby Wood

In the Roman Catholic section of a cemetery in north London, where at dusk one recent evening the only visible living things were a piebald raven and a sprinting fox, stands an ivy-covered cross.

Many of the headstones around it, largely from the turn of the 20th century, are twisting and broken and similarly inscribed, “in loving memory”. This one marks the remains of “Mabel, wife of George Bealby Wright and sister of Aubrey Beardsley”, who died in 1916 and who, though memorably colourful in life, is now known only in relation to a man who worked in black and white.

Though he became associated with erotica and mischievous, gender-fluid characters, many of Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings – which are due to be celebrated in a large-scale exhibition at Tate Britain next month – featured glamorously stylised women, long, lean, crowned with clouds of hair. Performers, prostitutes, bookshop browsers, creatures of legend and creatures of habit, they regularly inhabited the cover of The Yellow Book, the magazine of which Beardsley was art editor...

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