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Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley Selected from the Collection Owned by Mr. H. S. Nichols : Ltd Edition 1920

Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley Selected from the Collection Owned by Mr. H. S. Nichols : Ltd Edition 1920

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Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley
Selected from the Collection Owned by Mr. H. S. Nichols.

Edited by H. S. Nichols. Illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley.

New York: H. S. Nichols, 1920. Limited edition, No. 254 of 500 numbered copies. Signed by editor and publisher H. S. Nichols. Fully illustrated with full-page drawings by Beardsley. Publisher’s black pictorial cloth, stamped in gilt to spine and front cover, top edge gilt.

In very good condition. The cloth binding is very good with a couple of very small dents the fore-edge. The gilt design to the front board remains bright and clear. Spine good with a little rubbing to the ends. Endpapers very good. No writing or names other than that of the editors signature. All contents present and pages very good throughout. Light even age-toning to the outer margins. Overall a very good copy.

Contains fifty plates & captioned title pages. The drawings are considered forgeries probably done by Nichols and one of his associates. They were immediately denounced by Beardsley experts.

Nichols had been in the Beardsley milieu in the London of the 1890s, and was for a short time a partner of Leonard Smithers, the publisher and pornographer who not only published Beardsley’s later works along with The Savoy magazine, but also commissioned the notoriously “obscene” Lysistrata drawings. Smithers was, by Victorian standards, a scoundrel, but also an aesthete, whereas Nichols seems to lack any redeeming qualities. One of the curators of the Tate exhibition, Stephen Calloway, describes Nichols in his 1998 study, Aubrey Beardsley, as “scurrilous”, and provides an account of the Nichols fakes:

That Beardsley’s style was more or less inimitable was sadly proved by almost all those, and there were many, who attempted to fake his work. From the period immediately after the First World War, at a time when AE Callatin and a number of other American collectors were beginning, really for the first time, to make Beardsley originals more valuable, forgeries began to abound. In 1919 a celebrated fraud was attempted when HS Nichols reappeared on the scene, claiming to have an important and sizeable cache of previously unknown Beardsley drawings. They were put on a show in New York. Considerable excitement was generated, especially when doubts about the authenticity of the works began to be voiced in several important quarters.

Denounced as fakes by Callatin, Joseph Pennell and other connoisseurs, these hopelessly inept specimens of the forger’s pen were vigorously defended by Nichols, who claimed in the New York Evening Post, “I know a great deal more about Beardsley than either Mr Pennell or Mr Callatin, but I absolutely decline to make known to the world what I do know”. In fact, he claimed to have had more intimate dealings with the artist than even his erstwhile partner Smithers. The drawings, fifty in number, were published in an expensively produced album, like the Van Meegeren Vermeers; it is difficult now, with hindsight, to see how anyone could possibly have been taken in even then. But, in spite of a useful essay on How to Detect Beardsley Forgeries by the great Beardsley scholar RA Walker, which specifically alludes to these efforts at deception, examples from this very group and others of their like still circulate and surface from time to time.
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