Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98)
'J'ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan'
Design for The Climax from Oscar Wilde's 'Salome'
Line block print
Museum no. E.456-1899
Aubrey Beardsley was just 21 years old when he produced the drawings for Oscar Wilde's play Salome. They were first published in The Studio magazine in 1893. These illustrations launched Beardsley from obscurity to international fame almost overnight. More importantly, they marked the beginning of a new era in the arts: these are commonly held to be the first works to develop an Art Nouveau style.
In the play, Salome, the stepdaughter of King Herod, falls in love with the prophet Iokanaan (John the Baptist). He cruelly rejects her, but she swears that one day she will kiss him. By performing the 'dance of the seven veils' for Herod, she tempts him into granting her a request. She asks to be brought the severed head of Iokanaan. When her wish is fulfilled, Salome grabs the head and kisses it passionately. It is the aftermath of this grisly scene that we see here, along with the line 'I have kissed your mouth, Iokanaan'.
Beardsley has drawn Salome gazing with sadistic lust into the face of the butchered Iokanaan. She hangs suspended in a nightmarish abstract setting, surrounded by distorted flower forms and creeping 'whiplash' lines. The delicacy and grace of the drawing create a dramatic contrast with the horror of the scene.
This image was made by the line-block printing process, which can only reproduce areas of black and white. Beardsley kept the limitations of this method in mind when creating his work. Working with such limited means gave his work its striking simplicity, and meant that it lost none of its impact in reproduction. The low cost of line-block printing made his work widely available, and so Beardsley's reputation spread with astonishing speed.
This print can be found in Prints and Drawings Study Room box TOPIC 1a.