Aubrey Beardsley’s The Climax is a 1893 black and white line block print on Japanese vellum, depicting a scene from Oscar Wilde’s play Salome. It portrays protagonist Salome kissing the severed head of John the Baptist against a stark background. Beardsley’s style heavily emphasizes fluid lines inspired by Japanese woodcuts and was known for his significant role in British Aestheticism and Art Nouveau movements.
The essence of this illustration lies in how it manages to extract powerful emotions from viewers. Through his illustrations of Salome, Beardsley weaves together various imagery from the play to highlight the associations between characters and natural-world aesthetics. The levitating figure of Salome, dressed in a white robe with writhing snake-like curling black hair, creates an enigmatic image that captivates every viewer.
Beardsley completed The Climax just before it was first published, becoming one of many drawings he contributed to Salome. His artistic career was short but impactful, establishing him as one of the most controversial artists of his time. Despite its disturbing subject matter and theatricality, The Climax remains one of Beardsley’s most intriguing compositions whose legacy has continued long after its creation over 100 years ago.