The Yellow Book

The Yellow Book was a leading periodical in the 1890s for its distinctive and distinguished format, as it combined the avant-garde with the traditional in its visual and verbal contents and appeal to the popular readership interested in books as beautiful objects.  Its concept was first formulated by Aubrey Beardsley and his friend Henry Harland.  Beardsley and artist James McNeil Wristler took the idea to John Lane, who agreed to act as the publisher.  Harland became the literary editor and Beardsley became the art editor and cover designer.  The London periodical published in 1894 was a quarterly literary periodical that included a cover design printed in black on yellow cloth boards which imitated French novels and made the magazine stand out from the crowd as a marketing tactic.  The Yellow Book was printed in a single column in elegant Caslon type, with asymmetrical titles and bylines, dropped initial letters and catchwords at the bottom of each page.  The magazine focused and prided itself to be avant-garde and progressive, as contained a large range of literacy and artistic genres, and was one of the first magazines without advertisements between articles.  Beardsley’s art nouveau inspired designs introduced a new illustrative style of flattened perspective, stylization of forms and bold application of dots.  The interplay of areas of pure white with large masses of black was highly influenced by traditional Japanese woodcuts and highly mythological style made the illustrations surreal. Beardsley’s aim to be subversive with illustrations focusing on death, androgyny and sex shocked the publish and allowed The Yellow Book to establish a decadent reputation with Times referring it as “repulsiveness and insolence”.  However, the magazine was still appealing to the collector as well as the middle-class common reader, as many believed by buying such, they were an elite group of cultivated purchasers.  Editors secured visual impact by being as up to date and modern as possible in the mechanical reproduction of the magazine’s images.  Almost all engraving was done in London’s most advanced, electrically lit houses of mass production: the Swan Electric Engraving Company (process engraving of half-tones) and one of the three Carl Hentschel and Company factories (for line-engraving of pen and ink drawings).  They hoped by doing so the results would surpass the best of France and America and the magazine would be seen as cosmopolitan and outward-looking as well as having an international market (it was published in the United States and the British Isles).   At the time Oscar Wilde was arrested for homosexual conductin 1895, he was misreported for carrying The Yellow Book in his hand as he was arrested.  This caused a mob to storm the publisher’s office and break windows.  John Lane dismissed Beardsley as art editor (since he was associated with Wilde in the public mind) and continued to publish without him for two more years.


Collie, Freya. “Graphic Design – ‘The Yellow Book’ – Aubrey Beardsley 1872–1898.”Medium, FGD1 The Archive, 20 Oct. 2017,

Denisoff, Denis. “The Yellow Book (1894-1897): An Overview.” The Yellow Book (1894-1897): An Overview,