Charles Ricketts’ Salomé


Here is my scheme. I proposed a black floor – upon which Salomé’s white feet would show; this statement was meant to capture Wilde. The sky was to be a rich turquoise blue, and across by the perpendicular fall of strips of gilt matting, which should not touch the ground, and so form a sort of aerial tent above the terrace. Did Wilde actually suggest the division of the actors into separate masses of colour, today the idea seems mine! His was the scheme, however, that the Jews should be in yellow, the Romans were to be in purple, the soldiers in bronze green, and John in white. Over the dresses of Salomé, the discussions were endless: should she be black “like the night”? Silver, “like the moon”? Or – here the suggestion is Wilde’s – “green like a curious poisonous lizard”? I desired that the moonlight should fall upon the ground, the source not being seen; Wilde himself hugged the idea of some “strange dim pattern in the sky”.

Thus artist, designer, publisher and writer Charles Ricketts (1866–1931), describing in later years his proposal for what would have been the first staging of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé in London. The scheme never materialised since the play was banned but Ricketts did create costume and stage designs for subsequent productions elsewhere, including performances in Japan in 1920. The V&A has Ricketts’ sketch of the stage for a private production in 1906 by the Literary Theatre Society, London. (The ban on Biblical themes in theatre kept the play from public performance in London until 1931.) In the Tate archives there’s what may be one of Ricketts’ costume designs from the Japanese production. Ricketts’ painting of Salomé dates from 1925, and for such a lurid and passionate subject seems rather passionless and inert. This isn’t so surprising, he was always a better designer and graphic artist than a painter; his lifelong partner, Charles Shannon, was the one who excelled with oils.

And speaking of Ricketts and Shannon, searching around turned up this recent blog devoted to the pair which contains much detail about their celebrated book designs.


Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Salomé archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Charles Ricketts’ Hero and Leander