England, United Kingdom
7.25 x 9.5, 15.5 x 17.5 (in frame)
Gift of Sarah Blick, 2015
Originally a part of a commission to illuminate a new edition of a 15th century medieval manuscript, Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory, La Beale Isoud at Joyous Gard represents an upholding of previous thought and style in contemporary art of the period. In search of past traditional, moral parameters to further validate their own, Victorian England became interested in medieval principle, and by extension, the many Medieval Arthurian stories from the period. While there is not enough evidence to accurately date this reproduction, we do know that the original commissioned La Beale Isoud at Joyous Gard was one of the last completed works for the book in 1894. By this time, Beardsley had completed over 585 works for the edition, including full and double page illustrations, borders, ornaments, chapter headings, initials, and tall pieces.
Medieval Arthurian literature often features painted ornamentation to further illustrate the literary scenes. Further fusing present Victorian society with past medieval, contemporary artists of the time began to illuminate Arthurian texts with their own illustration. As a student of at the Westminster School of Art, artist Aubrey Beardsley was approached by publisher J.M. Dent at the age of nineteen to illuminate a new edition of Le Morte d’Arthur, counting him as one of the many artists of the period to aid in perpetuating Medieval narrative and style.
Beardsley, a young contemporary of this artistic group, both ascribed to and distanced himself from the medieval style. Incorporating contemporary aspects of Symbolism, Decadence, and Art Nouveau into his work, he created a cohesive style of old and new artistic tradition. Illustrating knights and major female characters as androgynous, provocative, and passive, he simultaneously refused to indulge in Malory’s medievalist heroic chivalry and challenged Victorian gender roles. Such subversion is perpetuated in the color scheme and lines which make up Beardsley’s composition.
Daughter of King Anguish and the true love of Sir Tristam, La Beale Isoud is depicted here as strolling through the cultivated gardens of a castle, a respite which was offered to the lovers by Lancelot as a place to escape their respective spouses. In the composition, orderly trees frame La Beale Isoud, as a sundial in the center, and an anonymous female figure to the right create a rational evenness of form that is pleasing to the eye. While La Beale Isoud at Joyous Gard is technically faithful to Malory’s text, Beardsley’s myriad of artistic influences as well as his own reaction to medievalism resulted in an inventive approach to the commissioned illustration.
This framed illustration of La Beale Isoud at Joyous Gard is a part of a larger history that began in the 15th century with Sir Thomas Malory and the mythological tales of King Arthur. Since Beardsley’s illustrative conception of the myths in 19th century, La Beale Isoud and her image continue to wander through time, allowing us to trace back the different methods of production, viewing, and interpretation that led to this object.
—Stephanie Holstein ('18)