Art Nouveau

Masterpiece Story: The Climax by Aubrey Beardsley

Lisa Scalone 22 February 2024 min Read

Aubrey Beardsley’s legacy endures, etched into the contours of the Art Nouveau movement. His distinctive style, marked by grotesque imagery and a provocative exploration of societal norms, remains a testament to the complexity of the human experience. In his short life, Beardsley traversed the boundaries of art, leaving behind a body of work that continues to attract and challenge audiences to this day. Read about one of his most famous prints – Climax!

The Artist

Aubrey Beardsley Climax: Félix Valloton, Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley, 1898. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Félix Valloton, Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley, 1898. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, a luminary in the world of Art Nouveau, led a brief yet impactful life, making an indelible mark on illustration and literature. Born on August 21, 1872, in Brighton, Sussex, England, Beardsley’s artistic journey unfolded against societal upheavals, personal struggles, and an unwavering pursuit of creative expression.

In 1892, Beardsley’s journey took a transformative turn in Paris, where he encountered the poster art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the allure of Japanese prints. His talent blossomed in 1893 with the illustration of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, showcasing his fascination with Japanese influences. As a co-founder of The Yellow Book, aligned with Aestheticism, Beardsley’s work featured stark black-and-white compositions, challenging Victorian values with satirical takes on sexuality inspired by Japanese shunga artwork.

Notable works include illustrations for Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Oscar Wilde’s Salome, the latter premiering in Paris in 1896.

The Climax

Aubrey Beardsley Climax: Aubrey Beardsley, The Climax. Plate XV from A Portfolio of Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings illustrating Salome’ by Oscar Wilde’, published by John Lane, London, 1907. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2023.

Aubrey Beardsley, The Climax. Plate XV from A Portfolio of Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings illustrating Salome’ by Oscar Wilde’, published by John Lane, London, 1907. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2023.

Born from a collaboration with Oscar Wilde, The Climax illustrates Salome’s provocative scene. Originally titled J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan (I have kissed your mouth, Jokannan), this illustration, part of a series of nine, was first published in April 1893 and evolved into its final version in 1894. Beardsley’s distinctive style, influenced by Japanese woodcuts, is evident in the precise lines and decorative motifs of Art Nouveau. The illustration captures Salome holding John the Baptist’s severed head, embodying the climactic moment in the play.

The artwork weaves together elements of eroticism, Symbolism, and Orientalism, portraying Salome as a powerful and intense figure challenging Victorian norms. Beardsley’s mastery of graphical traditions and modernism is evident in this captivating piece.

AdVertisment

Salome’s powerful depiction, with her hair resembling snake-like tendrils like a Medusa, exudes a mesmerizing intensity. The severed head drips blood, nourishing a phallic lily that symbolizes both impurity and purity. The background, featuring a quarter moon and stylized peacock feathers, further enriches the visual narrative.

Last Words

I have one aim – the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing. People hate to see their vices depicted, but vice is terrible and it should be depicted.

Aubrey Beardsley

https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/39563.Aubrey_Beardsley

Beardsley’s public and private personas were as intriguing as his art. Known for his distinctive style, he wore dove-grey suits, hats, ties, and yellow gloves. Despite his association with Wilde’s homosexual clique, details about Beardsley’s sexuality remain enigmatic.
In March 1897, Beardsley converted to Catholicism, a significant event in his tumultuous life. However, plagued by recurrent tuberculosis attacks and lung hemorrhages, he died on March 16, 1898, in France at the age of 25.

Bibliography

1.

Bruce S. Harris, The Collected Drawings of Aubrey Beardsley, 1967, Crown Publishers.

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