Urgh. So frustrating. She just won’t go away. That pesky Salome is back. Again.
Depending on which source you consult, this painting is sometimes identified as Judith and sometimes as Salome. Marcel-Béronneau did specifically paint Salome numerous times – as did his teacher, Gustave Moreau, at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. In fact, Moreau did over seventy drawings of Salome, including Salome, Salome Dancing before Herod and Salome Brandishing the Head of John the Baptist. And he was not the only one who was obsessed with the biblical story of Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils to obtain the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
It was notably the symbiosis of art and literature at the turn of the century that developed the image of Salome as a femme fatale. Salome was depicted numerous times by artists such as Gustave Moreau and Aubrey Beardsley. Oscar Wilde wrote his one-act play Salome, originally written in French, to shock audiences with its spectacle of perverse passions. Wilde’s play in turn became the source and inspiration for Richard Strauss’s one-act opera Salome, first produced in 1905. Joris-Karl Huysmans wrote about Moreau’s 1876 Salome in his seminal novel A Rebours (Against the Grain) making Salome the object of his hero’s fantasies of feminine evil. At the same time, Gustave Flaubert wrote his novel Herodias, and Stephane Mallarme was working on a poem entitled Herodiade. (1)
But Marcel-Béronneau gets credit for depicting more than just sex. His work explored similar themes to that of Moreau (temptation, seduction, sensual pleasure, triumph, pain and death), but his treatment with thick impasto and broad brushstrokes was significantly different. The style gives the appearance of mosaic or cracked ceramic, of texture and layers.
Although he followed Moreau with ornate scenes and “hypnotic” mythology and history along with the femme fatale, Béronneau’s later subjects more often appear strong and fierce – almost war-like.
… Béronneau was equally fascinated by mythical landscape; his work presented the classical fables, mythologies and biblical stories in dream-like, utterly otherworldly contexts loaded with bright, seductive colour and layers of glazes, applied thinly to luminous effect.
The feminine, seen in such characters such as Salome, Herodias, Judith or St. Cecilia, is omnipresent in the work of Marcel Béronneau, but that feminine is often synonymous with threat or temptation. Though never evil creatures, Beronneau’s women often appear almost inhuman, and always fascinating. He makes the traditional attributes of these women pictorially literal – Leda becomes a ‘swan–woman’, Gorgon Medusa a ‘snake woman’ and the Sphinx half-female, half-leopard. (3)
This Judith (if she is Judith) exudes confidence in her direct gaze that confronts the viewer “with the same attitude history describes her: unquestionably empowered.” (3) She is attired for battle with a headdress that looks like armor and a sword in her hands. The hilt of the sword is a nude male figure, suggesting that Judith’s conflict was both in and out of Holofernes’ bed.
Another noticeable element of Marcel-Béronneau’s work: the repeated use of the ethereal model, Germaine Marchant. After falling deeply in love with her, Marcel-Béronneau painted her obsessively as his representation of the femme fatale and then married her in 1918. In his depiction of Marchant, she appeared to have a face like Angelina Jolie – with a straight and symmetrical nose, wide lips in full pout, and heavily lidded eyes the color of pale green glass under arched brows.
But of course! Who else should portray Judith?
(1) Catalogue Note: Pierre-Amédée Marcel-Béronneau, Salome, 19th Century Paintings Including Spanish Painting And Symbolism & The Poetic Vision. Sotheby’s, London, 4 November 2007 (Lot #263)
(2) Catalogue Note: Pierre-Amédée Marcel-Béronneau, Salome. Stair Sainty, London,
(3) Catalogue Note: Pierre-Amédée Marcel-Béronneau, Le Songe D’Orphee (Recto), Stair Sainty, London,