Ballet with Beardsley

Born in the same year as Aubrey Beardsley, the prominent Russian modernist Mikhail Kuzmin (1872–1936) used to play with the date of his birth changing it in various testimonies from 1872 to 1875 and sometimes to 1877. The desire to curate his biography persisted throughout his life, and so did his preoccupation with Beardsley. ‘I was sitting there, digesting Beardsley and my destiny’, Kuzmin noted in his diary on 5 September 1929, thirty years after Sergei Diaghilev’s journal Mir iskusstva (World of Art) had reproduced Beardsley’s designs for the first time, thus initiating the ‘Beardsley craze’ in Russia. Fusing the evocation of Beardsley and the attempt to grasp the meaning of his entire life, this confession is typical of Kuzmin’s profound and enduring fascination with the English decadent. It surfaces in Kuzmin’s texts, ranging from letters and diaries to more conventional literary genres such as plays, literary translations, and poems. You can read about Kuzmin’s early reception of Beardsley and, in particular, Beardsley’s depictions of Bathyllus in the context of Russian queer histories in the article I wrote for the Rimbaud & Verlaine Foundation which is based on the original research from my PhD thesis (click here).

Aubrey Beardsley, Bathyllus Posturing, 1896, reproduced in An Issue of Five Drawings Illustrative of Juvenal and Lucian (London: Leonard Smithers, 1906)