So the first book purchase of the year turns out to be the original Dover edition of Beardsley and Wilde’s Salomé. This appeared in 1967, a year after the major V&A exhibition which introduced Beardsley’s work to a new generation and commenced the Beardsley craze that lasted into the Seventies. Not that I’m in desperate need of these drawings, having most of them several times already in different Beardsley books, but this volume is worth having since the reproductions are large size, very sharp and they took enough care to ensure that the uncensored versions of the drawings were used. The book also includes the complete text of Wilde’s play and Robert Ross’s Note on Salomé from 1930 which I don’t have elsewhere.
Beardsley’s work was subject to many censorship actions during his career but the Salomé book caused the most trouble (his later erotic works were private editions so don’t really count). The original title page shown here had the semi-erect penis of the winged boy and the pendulous genitals of the herma removed while one drawing, The Toilette of Salomé, was deemed too much and had to be redrawn entirely. That picture did contain a masturbating page boy so it’s perhaps not so surprising. There was such a lot to offend Victorian sensibilities in Beardsley’s work at this time, whether overt or surreptitious, that it’s remarkable the book was printed at all. His art was so radically different from anything else being done in 1894 that many people had difficulty accepting these pictures as illustrations at all, regardless of the content. As a result they missed salacious details that would have finished the career of a lesser artist. Wilde’s play was equally scandalous and could only be performed in France, having been banished from the London stage. As Robert Ross says in his Note:
Wilde used to say that Salomé was a mirror in which everyone could see himself. The artist, art; the dull, dullness; the vulgar, vulgarity.
The sense of shock extended back to Beardley’s original Salomé drawing (also included in the Dover volume) which appeared in the first number of The Studio in 1893, some of the readers of that magazine finding the detail of the spilled blood nourishing a phallic lily a grotesque detail too far. The Studio drawing was reworked and simplified as The Climax for Salomé. You can see the complete set of illustrations here. Neither that collection nor the Dover book include a picture of the original cover, however, whose splendid gold-on-green peacock feathers look a lot more impressive than Beardley’s rough design. So here it is.