Several prints of this design are still in circulation today, including one at the V&A Museum in London. They have provided further information on this piece, as well as the series from which it came. The Black Cape was produced initially in 1894, but most remaining prints of it come from a second release in 1907 which was a separate project. The earlier publication was a British version of Oscar Wilde's play, Salome. This was a French play, and Salome features prominently in many of the drawings produced by Beardsley. His work would sit alongside the texts, but the later publication was a portfolio which only focused on his work alone. The majestic nature of these drawings ensured that they entirely deserved to be treated as artworks in their own right, rather than as supporting elements for a commercial project. Many of this series are now considered amongst his best achievements, though he did provide illustrations for a number of other books and magazines too. Other notable entries for Salome included The Peacock Skirt, The Climax and The Dancer's Reward.
Salome within this features wears a flowing skirt which provides the vibrant activity, as well as a multi-layered black cape, which provides the title of the drawing. The artist regularly patterned his drapery in a charming manner, and does so again here. We find simple floral touches dotted around the cape and these ensure that none of the black regions of the drawing are too devoid of detail. There is also some sort of wand grasped in one hand, plus a huge bonnet which dominates the top half of the artwork. The series were created using black and white line block prints on a material called Japanese vellum. The process was handled by London-based John Lane, who was a respected printer. The style found within The Black Cape continued throughout this memorable series of drawings and it can be considered the best contribution that he made during his short but influential career. He regularly worked alongside literary themes, including plays and poetry, and this was a common way in which artists created an income in the latter part of the 19th century.
Aubrey Beardsley became one of the most famous British illustrators of all time and his contemporary style has allowed him to continue to be particularly popular today. Prints of his work are regularly requested, with the Art Nouveau movement, to which he is broadly connected, being followed with passion by younger generations. Many will be entirely unaware that the great work that he achieved was over just a very short period of time, and some will choose to learn a little more about his life after being struck by the beauty of artworks such as The Black Cape. Another popular artist connected to this overall style was Alphonse Mucha who himself worked tirelessly creating posters for various patrons in and around Paris, just as did Toulouse-Lautrec and both of these great artists would have been well known to Beardsley himself.