Matthew Sturgis at Literary Review:
Beardsley had little formal training. He attended a few night classes at the Westminster School of Art. He learned by working – principally on two large commissions that he received in 1892 from the innovative publisher J M Dent, one for an illustrated edition of Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, the other for a series of ‘grotesques’ to adorn three volumes of bons mots by the wits of the 18th century. He worked on both in tandem over the course of some eighteen months. There were lots of drawings to be done: more than three hundred illuminated letters, chapter headings, tail pieces, borders and full-page illustrations for LeMorte, and around one hundred and thirty images for the Bon-Mots. He got heartily sick of the work, but the sheer volume of it and the speed at which he had to produce improved his penmanship to the point of mastery, stimulated his powers of invention and turned him from an amateur into a professional.
Beardsley delighted in symbolism and hidden allusions. He often used to smuggle subversive details into his pictures, to vex either the public or his publishers. John Lane, who published many of Beardsley’s finest works at the Bodley Head, complained that he had to look at the works upside down to check them for hidden improprieties. Even so, Beardsley managed to introduce into his Salome illustrations a portrait of Wilde as the moon and some phallic candelabra. Such japes have made Beardsley’s drawings a rich ground for interpretative exposition and Zatlin draws together many contemporary and more recent commentaries, some more fanciful than others. The ‘baton’ held by the Maîtresse d’Orchestre receives multiple intriguing interpretations.