Gustave Moreau was appointed professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1892, but well before that, he was also a painter.
At the time that he created The Apparition in 1876, the Post-Impressionist movement was underway; the rapid progress of society made possible by industrialization was beginning to have drawbacks, including the pollution of the environment and changing social norms revolving around socioeconomic status.
The work tells the story of the biblical princess Salome, who danced for her stepfather Herod before demanding the head of St. John the Baptist as a birthday present. Salome is shown the work pointing accusingly at the floating head of the recently executed St. John, which is bleeding profusely and is surrounded by a halo of light. In the background is the silhouette of a shrine in the center, an armed guard to the right, and two unidentified onlookers staring silently at the scene from the left.
This work gives manifest the trope femme fatale (deadly woman). As mentioned earlier, changing social norms brought about by rising socioeconomic expectations in Europe. At the same time, the nineteenth century was drawing to a close, bringing about a case of mal-du-siecle (roughly "bad of the cycle"). Tendencies toward dark subject matter became common at this time, and this work served to portray women, who were proving themselves as capable as men in working, as a dangerous force, as Salome's crown and bare chest suggest.
The trope femme fatale is significant in that it persisted in literature for decades to come.