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Aubrey Beardsley's original design for the invitation to the opening of the Prince's Ladies Golf Glub at Mitcham in Surrey (now Mitcham Golf Club) in July 1894 is rather a surprise. Not only was the frail and wiry Beardsley to die at just 26 from tuberculosis in 1898 but his desperate hand-to-mouth existence meant that he would accept almost any commission, even for something as unfamiliar to him as golf.
The drawing, measuring just nine inches by five inches, depicts two elegant ladies, rather unsuitably attired for a game of golf, with a small pierrot holding a bag of clubs.
It was commissioned by the grandfather of the vendor, Robert Hippisley-Cox (1857-1923), who was a surgeon and friend of Beardsley and Oscar Wilde. It has been out of the family's possession only briefly in 114 years, when it was exhibited at the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition at the V&A in London in 1966 and in America in 1967.
Encouraged to take up art by the great Pre-Raphaelite painter, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Beardsley gave up his job as a city clerk at an insurance company. His elegant linear designs became highly desirable in the burgeoning Art Nouveau era after his death but during his lifetime Beardsley had a tougher time and his work was described as "the mere glorification of a hideous and putrescent aspect of modern life".
After praise in The Studio magazine in 1894, Beardsley's fortunes flourished briefly before ill health cut short his precocious talent. His work has now been consistently popular for over a century but very little of it still remains in private hands.
This drawing, of particular rarity for being a genuine work from the master's best period and combining Beardsley's love of Toulouse-Lautrec inspired modern life with the civilised but unexpected theme of ladies' golf, is being offered by the Dorset descendants of Robert Hippisley-Cox with an estimate of £8000-12000. A print of the invitation itself accompanies the drawing to give just a hint of the best of Beardsley at the dawn of his brief but brilliant career.