|Salomé, 2011, Barry Moser
In the early 1890s, shortly after the publication of his famous (and only) novel "The Picture of Dorian Grey," Wilde became a success as a playwright. The one-act play "Salomé" was written in French after a conversation about the Biblical story of John the Baptist inspired him. Wilde, of course, was Irish, and he usually wrote in English. He chose the language because of his love of France -- the country he would retire to after he served jail time for “gross indecency with other men” just a few years later.
“Salomé” is short and brutal, centering around a beautiful young woman living with the stigma of her mother's accused incestuous marriage to get stepfather, Herod II. When John (referred to as C) insults her mother and spurns her, she exacts her revenge: When Herod offers her anything she wants if she dances for him, she chooses Jokanaan’s head on a platter. Literally.
|Salomé Kisses the Head of Iokanaan, 2011, Barry Moser
|The Dancer's Reward, 1906, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley
|The cistern, 2011, Barry Moser
|"Let me kiss your mouth," 2011, Barry Moser
|The Stomach Dance, 1906, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley
|The Peacock Skirt, 1906, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley
Despite Wilde’s criticism’s of Beardsley’s work, the lithographs are quite beautiful and captivating. “The Peacock Skirt” look as if it could be a high fashion illustration, but it does highlight the almost detached interpretation, as it doesn’t directly refer to anything in the play. As an exhibit as a whole, “Salomé” bridges over a century, showcasing a great difference in aesthetic. Some might argue that the Donohue/Moser update righted the wrongs of the 1894 Douglas/Beardsley collaboration -- and there’s little doubt that the update more accurately captures Wilde’s words as they were intended. But to be able to look back on the 1894 artwork in conjunction with Moser’s enhances the timeliness of Beardsley’s work. It was both a reflection of and a rebellion against its time, which is something that can’t be truly captured in the 21st Century.