The Dancer's Reward Aubrey Beardsley Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The Dancer's Reward was one of a number of drawings created by Aubrey Beardsley for a new publication of Oscar Wilde's Salome. Several years later the set of work would be published again as a portfolio.

A number of prints of The Dancer's Reward still exist today from that later publication which was overseen by well known London publisher, John Lane. Some of Beardsley's work was left out of, or amended, for the earlier book but the later portfolio concentrated on bringing all of them together as the artist had orginally intended. Some of his designs were considered a little too risque for the Salome book and so changes made included covering areas of anatomy with fig leafs, for example. The publication in the late 19th century was the first British version after a translation was provided for Oscar Wilde's work, which was originally created in French. Some of his work on this project would actually form some of the highlights of his career, partly because he was limited to only six years as a professional artist. The Peacock Skirt was perhaps his most famous contribution to the Salome book, and the artist also produced drawings for another publication, known as The Yellow Book.

Japanese art would leave a strong legacy on European artists, particularly in France. Beardsley would come across it himself both in London and also during his time living in Paris. Many artists collected Japanese prints themselves, including Whistler, Manet and Van Gogh, with a good number imported from the Far East by sea. The techniques of production were then studied and became common place within Europe. Beardsley himself made use of Japanese vellum for the production of this piece, though that process would have been handled by others on his behalf. In the years that have passed since, rather than merely understanding the techniques of Japanese wood block prints, we have become much more familiar with some of the original exponents of it, as well as some of their individual artworks. The names include the likes of Hiroshige and Hokusai. Van Gogh also famously reproduced by hand a print that he had purchased and these are often compared to see how a westerner might re-intepret the original Asian piece.

In terms of The Dancer's Reward itself, we find Salome depicted within this artwork, whilst holding the head of John the Baptist is this shocking imagery. The black and white format avoids using bright red for the blood dripping from his head, giving a more restrained impact, though the piece is still amongst the most explosive of all those that he provided for this project. Salome angles the head to face her, allowing them to stare directly at each other. Aside from the head itself, other notable elements of this design are the details included throughout Salome's clothing, with one area patterned, whilst elsewhere the drapes of material are represented by just a few simple lines, underlining the brilliance and majestic creativity of Beardsley himself. Few artists would choose to limit themselves to two colours, but this enabled him to display some incredible ingenuity through his short career.