Salomé (Bloch 14)

1905 (between summer and the end of the year, Paris)
From the Suite des Saltimbanques
Drypoint printed on Van Gelder Zonen with Van Gelder Zonen watermark
From the edition of 250 of the third (final) state
Printed by Fort, 1913
Published by Vollard, 1913
Image: 16 x 13 3/4 inches
Sheet: 24 3/4 x 20 inches
(Bloch 14) (Baer 17.III.b.2)

This image is among the most important of the Suite des Saltimbanques. Picasso’s raw artistic talent is wonderfully conveyed through his mastery of line. This early impression is one of 250 printed on Van Gelder Zonen from the 1913 Vollard edition printed by Fort, after the plate was steelfaced. 


The appearance of Salomé story in the Suite des Saltimbanques is something of a mystery, though it was a favorite subject of French art and literature in the preceding decades. Both Picasso and his close friend Apollinaire boldly reimagined the classic biblical tale, putting their own marks on the subject. Picasso’s version appears here and in another etching from the series, La Danse Barbare (Devant Salomé et Herode) (Bloch 15). The same year, Apollinaire’s poem, also titled Salomé, appeared in Vers et Prose (which was edited by their mutual friend André Salmon). This connection has led biographer John Richardson to surmise that the Suite des Saltimbanques may have been originally intended to illustrate Apollinaire’s poem: “The Salomé drypoint echoes the mocking mood of Apollinaire’s lines on the same subject: ‘Weep not, pretty jester to the king /Take this head instead of cap and bells and dance.”i


Regardless of his intention, Picasso’s etching reveals an early propensity for sexual subjects in his prints, a proclivity that would become more apparent as he matured. Salomé is shockingly nude (she is traditionally depicted in several layers of jewels and veils), kicking her leg into the air and fully exposing herself to her stepfather Herod, who seems to be looking at the viewer with a wry smile on his face. Behind him, Salomé’s mother Herodias, who had asked her daughter to dance for her husband in order to trick him into ordering the execution of John the Baptist (whom she loved), averts her eyes. Her position “over” Herod, but hiding behind him, implies the power imbalance in the exchange, as well as Herod’s ignorance of her machinations. Below, in an anachronous vignette, a servant watches the dance while holding the prophet’s head on a platter. The plump figure representing Herod appears several times within Picasso’s paintings, drawings, watercolors, and prints of the period and was modeled after a saltimbanque Picasso befriended. This image is unrelated to the theme of the Suite des Saltimbanques but shares the sparse composition and delicately lined figures of other plates in the series. In particular, Salomé’s graceful and weightless form shares characteristics with the female acrobats on horseback in Au Cirque (Bloch 9). The lines that run across the middle of the composition from the left to the right center are a result of Picasso’s use of a previously etched plate, a common practice for him during his early years of poverty. However, they have the added effect of focusing attention on the girl’s provocative gesture.


i John Richardson. A Life of Picasso: The Prodigy, 1881-1906. New York, NY: Knopf, 2007, 334.