Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Aubrey Beardsley's Ink Drawings for Wilde's Salome

Nearly three months ago I presented a post on this blog showing all the illustrations Beardsley made for John Lane’s edition of Wilde’s Salome, as they appeared in reproduction via the process known as electro-engraving.  This present post shows contemporary photographs provided by the various owners of the actual ink drawings.  These owners range from the British Museum (and several other noteworthy London cultural institutions) to the Fogg Museum at Harvard to an anonymous private collector who bought two of them after their recent rediscovery hanging in their former owner’s bathroom.  I believe it’s preferable to see the actual drawings as opposed to their flattened photo-mechanical reproduction, as it gives a greater sense of the labor involved in their production.  It may make one better appreciate how much Beardsley was able to accomplish in his very short life.

It took me some time to track down all of the original drawings for this post, and the last one down is actually not the original but an excellent later reproduction that maintains so many of the details that were lost in its initial reproduction.  This is of course the first version of the Toilet of Salome which was suppressed because the posture of the young man in the foreground apparently indicates that he is masturbating.  It should be noted that Wilde had very mixed feelings about Beardsley’s drawings for his play.  He sensed that Aubrey was making fun of the text, and many of the contemporary critics encouraged him in this view.  For me, Beardsley completely entered into the spirit of this great ornate drama and provided its perfect complement.

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