Marcus Behmer (German, 1879 – 1958)

Salome, 11 illustrations for the book by Oscar Wilde

1902

All are signed with initials ‘M’ (lower right) with a dedication to Baron Detluv Von Hadeln ‘FVER DETLUV’, and all numbered and signed to the lower left of the margin, and all including text hand written by Behmer to the left of the plate

Lithographs on Japan Paper

13.3/8 x 10.3/8in. (34 x 26.5cm.) (to mount edge)

18.1/2 x 15in. (47 x 38.2cm.) (including frame)

Price: £12,400

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Oscar Wilde’s play Salome is a twist on the execution of John the Baptist, fuelled by motives of lust and slaughter.  Wilde’s twist on the biblical story focuses on the personality of Salome and the hypersexual implications.  This distortion of the Biblical story is due to the creation of her as both victim and victimiser. She is the incarnation of seductive lust and manipulative power, utilising the male gaze. 

It is apparent Behmer is influenced by the work of Aubrey Beardsley, though these works are no less beautiful in their execution.  Little is known regarding his connections to Oscar Wilde though he is obviously an admirer and has many similarities with his private life and incarceration in prison. These works were a personal gift to Baron Detlev von Hadeln, the aristocrat and prominent art historian of the age.  Each plate has been painstakingly inscribed with text from Oscar Wilde’s work in the artist’s own hand.  A full set of these works is incredibly rare to find and it is not known if there are any others fully inscribed by the artist with text.  They are also in excellent original condition with only very slight oxidisation to the paper. 

Behmer is known to be, since 1903, a member in the first ever homosexual organization in Berlin and was thus probably a part of Adolf Brand’s circle, and may have contributed to Brand’s publication Der Eigene.  Until now, few know that Behmer was sentenced in April 1937 by a court in Konstanz to imprisonment for two years, being arrested in Freiburg and at other locations in southern Germany for being a homosexual.  At times he was given the opportunity to work as an artist in prison.  The works produced in this period are mostly calligraphic designed tablets with Greek text (prayers and Bible quotes), amd drawings full of bitterness and irony

After the war he spent the rest of his life in West Berlin.

 Renowned museums and collections such as the graphic collection of the Stadel Musuem in Frankfurt, the Klingspor Museum for calligraphy and typography in Offenbach and the collection Sternweiler in Berlin today house works by Marcus Behmer.

 He remains an important figure in the Berlin secession but should be much better known for his work and certainly for his bravery as a leading light in the early days of the gay movement at a time when it was so dangerous to be out and proud.