Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Beardsley, whose drawings were heavily influenced by Japanese woodcuts, drew this memorable scene of Salome kissing the severed head of John the Baptist as one of sixteen works commissioned by Oscar Wilde to commemorate the publication of his play of the same name. Composed by Wilde in 1891, Salome was banned during London rehearsals due to its presentation of Biblical characters on stage - although letters from theatrical censor Edward Pigott privately cited the play’s more “pornographic” elements as the real reason for its closure.
Like many of Beardsley’s drawings, which habitually emphasised the erotic, symbolic and grotesque, The Climax is rendered in stark, precisely controlled lines, incorporating elements of decorative motif which were characteristic of the Art Nouveau style that was gaining in popularity at the time. Salome, who is pictured in a femme fatale role, grasps the head of John the Baptist, staring powerfully into his eyes. The image taps into contemporary male fears surrounding burgeoning female sexuality and superiority as the women’s movement pushed for gains in economic rights and occupational and educational opportunities.
The Climax, ink drawing from Salome by Aubery Beardsley (1893) via ArtFund