Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal
Signed B.MACKENNAL LONDON
Bronze with dark brown patination
Height: 11 1/2" (29 cm)
Conceived and cast circa 1896
The present model depicts Salome, daughter of Herodias and stepdaughter of Herod, the ruler of Galilee. In the New Testament story, Salome danced for her stepfather, seducing him into offering her anything she desired. Following pressure from her mother, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist, which Herod reluctantly granted her.
The legend of Salome had been revived in public consciousness thanks to Oscar Wilde’s homonymous play, which was first performed in Paris in 1891. Indeed, the figure of this and other femmes fatales, able to turn man’s will to her own wishes, was particularly popular amongst authors and artists in Victorian times. In England, Pre-Raphaelite artists depicted extensively biblical and mythological figures such as Delilah, who seduced Samson and cut his hair, Lilith – a promiscuous female demon in the Jewish tradition – as well as sphinxes and sirens.
Following this tradition, Mackennal engaged with such a subject more than once. One of his most famous works, Circe (1893), depicts a mystically powerful woman, whose sensuality represents the source of her power.
Salome was conceived by the artist three years later, in 1896, and was first shown at the Royal Academy the following year. The work was very well received and critically acclaimed for its modeling and subtle eroticism. The base of the sculpture depicts two stylised, entwined snakes. This appears to be a tribute to Alfred Gilbert’s work, who was experimenting with the Art Nouveau style for his pedestals in the late 1890s.
The model was only cast in the present size. Other examples of this work can be found in a number of public collections, such as that of the University of Melbourne (Victoria) and the Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney).