The Rise of the Aesthetes & Bohemians.
“…bound in yellow paper, the cover slightly torn and the edges soiled.” The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde.
In addition to his technical innovations Whistler brought to England a certain attitude that owed much to the life of artistic Paris. This was Bohemianism which was captured in such novels as George du Maurier’s Trilby (1894) which featured the artist Joe Sibley, actually modelled on Whistler who threatened to sue but thought better of it. Bohemia was often associated with a socially indeterminate life style, epitomised in the vagabondage or wandering life of Gypsies. Growing up in South Wales, the young Augustus John would discern in this lifestyle a raw energy and crude honesty that was at odds with the bourgeois existence of his family. Something of the bohemian persona is captured in his Slade colleague William Orpen’s portrait of John who may have deliberately cultivated this image of a modern British artist modelled on the French professional- but John would find himself culturally adrift with the coming of Cézanne and the moderns. Both John and Orpen would frequent, and in the latter’s case, paint the Café Royal in London which was a bohemian den attracting the marginal of London. Sometimes confused with the bohemian was the dandy, but the latter should be seen as more of a mental attitude adopted by those with an aristocratic cast of mind, which was only partially reflected in their outward sartorial appearance. The dandy type evolved slowly, but it became more associated with painters in the city thanks to Baudelaire’s important essay on the Painter of Modern Life which appeared in 1863. Many intellectuals and trend-setters alike would be influenced by Baudelaire’s ideas, especially in the 1880s and 1890s. One of the most well-known smartly-dressed, aesthetically inclined individuals was Des Esseintes in J. K. Huysman’s novel A Rebours (1884) which significantly features in Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Grey (1884)- the infamous book “bound in yellow paper.” A keen collector of art, Des Esseintes owns such decadent pictures as Gustave Moreau’s Salomé who was an object of fascination for Symbolist painters and writers in France and England, including Wilde. The Irishman was an avid fan of A Rebours and even wrote a play about the erotic siren Salomé, controversially illustrated by an art associate of Wilde- Aubrey Beardsley. Admired for his mass of black and delicate line on virginal white, Beardsley was persuaded to illustrate the English version of Salome though Wilde complained that “Aubrey’s drawings were “too Japanese”, whereas “his play was Byzantine.” As Martin Fido explains, Beardsley and Wilde represented two different kinds of decadence present in varying styles: Beardsley was “technically clean, precise and direct” but Wilde’s was “lush, ornate and heavy.” Though the “Yellow Book” was predominantly connected with the decadent world of the aesthetic adventurer, its contents were artistically and textually broad. In one of the earliest editions, one could enjoy drawings by R.A. artists such as Lord Leighton (who survived into the 1890s), and Slade educated William Rothenstein, as well as Walter Sickert, pupil of Whistler, and later a member of the NEAC. As we shall see, Sickert would assert himself as one of the most significant purveyors of the realist style in twentieth-century English art. Beardsley may have been the dynamo behind the “Yellow Book” project, but his astringent line contrasted starkly with the styles of the other “Yellow Book” artists whose art had been formed in different traditions.
 Martin Fido, Oscar Wilde, 95.