Delaware Art Museum Displays Works Inspired by Oscar Wilde

Featuring lithographs, engravings and illustrations, “Oscar Wilde’s Salomé: Illustrating Death and Desire” is a must-see.


Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was an Irish writer and poet who became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. The Delaware Art Museum is pleased to present the complete sets of the first and the most recent illustrations inspired by Oscar Wilde’s infamous play “Salomé” (1893). Wilde’s retelling of the biblical story has been a source of inspiration for artists since its publication. “Oscar Wilde’s Salomé: Illustrating Death and Desire,” on view Feb. 7-May 10, features 36 original works, including lithographs by Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872-1898) and engravings by Barry Moser (b. 1940). Books and periodicals featuring illustrations by Louis Jou, André Derain and Valenti Angelo, among others, will also be on view.

Written in French by Wilde and translated into English by Alfred Douglas, Salomé was banned from production in London in 1893 and was not performed until three years later in Paris. In one act, the tragedy tells the story of Salomé, stepdaughter of King Herod of Judea. Salomé 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 silver platter in return for dancing the seductive dance of the seven veils for Herod. The 1893 publication attracted a growing curiosity among the public, including that of the controversial artist and illustrator Aubrey Vincent Beardsley. He created black-and-white lithographs to illustrate the tale, with emphasis on the decadent and erotic subject matter. For instance, 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 will be on display in the exhibition. Engravings by Barry Moser illustrating the most recent publication (2011) will be accompanied by Joseph Donohue’s translation of the original French play. 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.

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