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Artists and Illustrators: Gustave Moreau and Audrey Beardsley

            Audrey Beardsley is to Wilde’s vision of Salomé’s visual aspects what Lord Alfred Douglas was to its linguistic aspects. Douglas’s translation, inaccurate and unfaithful, displeased Wilde yet nevertheless received his blessing and has become more or less the official version (Daalder 48). Beardsley’s drawings, though Wilde characterized them as naughty where he wanted sensual, wordly where he wanted mystic, and “Japanese” where he wanted Byzantine, once characterized as "like the naughty scribbles a precocious boy makes on the margins of his copybooks." (web source), were nevertheless called “magnificent” by Wilde and included in the English edition (Ellmann 240).

Subsequently they have become inextricably linked to the image of Salomé in the public imagination, often to the detriment of the play. “It has been said that Salome sufered for the sins of Aubrey Beardsley,” wrote Holbrook Jackson in 1945. Beardsley’s more mean-spirited decadence put off later audiences and seems much less refined than Wilde’s: “Beardsley amused himself by insinuating phallic symbols into his designes with the lewd relish of a boy who scribbles bawdry on a wall” (Jackson 6).
Gustave Moreau painted the most fitting illustrations of Salomé; or, more accurately, Wilde wrote a play to fit Moreau’s paintings, at least the vision given to him by Huysman:

“My herod is like the Herod of Gustave Moreau, wrapped in his jewels and sorrows. My Salome is a mystic, the sister of Salammbô, a Sainte Thérèse who worships the moon.” (ELLMANN, 376)

No other version of Salomé pleased him. He rejected in turn paintings by Leonardo, Dürer, Ghirlandaio, van Thulden, and Regnault (Ellmann 340). In Moreau only was a Salomé chaste yet passionate, mystic yet corporeal. Wilde obsessed over the images and hoped to translate even their color scheme into the staging of his play.
            In 1945 Valenti Angelo would try his hand at a new set of illustrations, more in line with the “Byzantine” character of the play, in an edition by the Heritage Press in New York.

See also: Images

Literary Influences





Moreau and Beardsley