A new exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum pays homage to one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. Oscar Wilde’s Salomé: Illustrating Death and Desire showcases the complete sets of the first and most recent illustrations inspired by Wilde’s infamous play, Salomé (1893).
The biblically based tragedy tells the story of Salomé, stepdaughter of King Herod of Judea, who takes a perverse fancy for John the Baptist and is insulted when he spurns her affections. She seeks revenge by requesting his head on a platter in return for dancing the seductive dance of the seven veils for Herod.
The play was banned from production in London in 1893 and was not performed until three years later in Paris. Controversial artist and illustrator Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872 -1898) created black-and-white lithographs to illustrate the tale, with emphasis on the decadent and erotic subject matter.
Beardsley’s The Climax, illustrating Salomé’s euphoric interaction with the head of John the Baptist, captures both the horror of the physical beheading and the decadence of Salomé’s obsession. All of Beardsley’s lithographs for the first fully illustrated edition of the play are part of the Delaware Art Museum exhibition.
Engravings by Barry Moser, representing the most recent publication (2011), are also displayed. Moser’s sensual engravings provide a strong visual interpretation of the drama for the modern age. Salomé’s eroticism conveyed in Moser’s Salomé Dances the Dance of the Seven Veils, and her cold-hearted embrace of John the Baptist’s severed head illustrate the dark tone of the tale.
Oscar Wilde’s Salomé: Illustrating Death and Desire was organized by the Delaware Art Museum with additional support by grants from the Delaware Division of the Arts, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Delaware Art Museum is open Wednesday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Thursday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m., and Friday – Sunday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults (19-59); $12 for seniors (60+); $10 for students (with valid ID); $6 for youth (7-18); and free for children (6 and under). Admission fees are waived Thursdays after 4 p.m. and Sundays.
For more information, call 302-571-9590 or 866-232-3714 (toll free), or visit www.delart.org.