Morgan Meis in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_2037 Jun. 16 20.00The drawings of the late-nineteenth-century English illustrator and author Aubrey Beardsley are so sexually charged that even a critic as generally snobbish and patrician as Kenneth Clark, in accounting for his youthful fondness for them, all but described the works, in a 1976 essay for The New York Review of Books, as autoerotic visual aids. Calling the drawings “a kind of catmint to adolescents,” Clark wrote that they “suggested vice . . . with an adolescent intensity which communicated itself through every fold and tightly drawn outline of an ostensibly austere style.” He added, “I like to think that my interest was not only sexual.”

Beardsley did not think of himself as a pornographer—he thought of himself as a fine artist and a dandy. He ran with the British Decadents, who worshipped beauty. They were inspired and amused by the antics and the art of the American expatriate James McNeill Whistler. They grew up in a post-Romantic era and were stimulated, visually, by the works of the Pre-Raphaelites. They hung out, most notoriously, with Oscar Wilde.

But the era of dandy decadence was short-lived. Oscar Wilde was arrested for “gross indecency” (that is, homosexuality) in 1895, and imprisoned, following his famous trial, shortly thereafter. He died in 1900. Beardsley died two years before, of tuberculosis, having also been tarnished in the Wilde scandal—his friendship with Wilde was considered suspiciously close, causing him to lose his job as art editor for The Yellow Book, a quarterly he co-founded. Edward Burne-Jones, the last of the great Pre-Raphaelites, died the same year, and Whistler died in 1903. As the new century came on, these great figures of the late nineteenth century burned out.

More here.