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The Climax

Artist: Aubrey Beardsley
Created: 1893
Format: Drawing
Location: From Salome by Oscar Wilde

The Climax

In 1893, Aubrey Beardsley created a vast series of drawings based on Oscar Wilde’s book “From Salome”. Included in this series was a drawing entitled ‘The Climax’, an intriguing composition of intricate shapes and lines that not only display significant artistic ideology, but also produce powerful emotions in the viewer.

The flower that Aubrey Beardsley introduced at the bottom of the artwork adds a sense of gentleness and femininity; however, the feeling quickly dissipates as the bold, angry figure of Salome, holding the decapitated head of St. John the Baptist, catches the onlooker’s attention. It presents a shocking, gruesome image. The hair of St. John the Baptist is not flowing freely, but painted rather medusa-like, with sharp lines that contour his stone-cold stare. A trail of blood falls from it, and pools on the ground around the beautiful flower. The top left of the background comprises a delicate, almost oriental design that amplifies the ethereal elements of ‘The Climax’, while the fluid features of the bottom section add an otherworldly essence to the painting. The viewer is unexpectedly transported on a disturbing, emotional and spiritual journey.

‘The Climax’ has been subject to much analysis since its publication, most of which have been attempts in determining whether the drawings are in fact to be interpreted as a description of Oscar Wilde’s written words, or a reflection of the male point of view on the rise of feminism. It would be safe to conclude that it is a symbolic blend of both interpretations.


“Beardsley's drawings are admirably suited to the technical possibilities of industrial reproduction. Ambitious and supremely gifted, the young artist developed a perverse and playfully theatrical style partly inspired by Greek vase painting. The venomous elegance of his drawings has an ornamental rhythm akin to the abstract decorations of Islamic palaces. For Salome, Beardsley ironically appropriated the decadent theme of the evil, emasculating woman. His characters are often grotesque - notably in drawings he later described as "naughty", representing, for example, grimacing "Gobbi" afflicted with monumentally tumescent phalluses.” - Michael Gibson (“Symbolism”)

‘The Climax’ by Aubrey Beardsley is a published illustration in the book, “From Salome” by Oscar Wilde.


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