Friday, November 12, 2010

Girl/girl pictures from French postcards: 1890s to 1920s

Typical of the classical nudes of the 1880s and 1890s

Most French photographs of nude women, whilst "naughty" by the standards of the day look rather sweet and innocent today.  Certainly, explicit "hardcore" material was available from the very early years of photography but most of it just included naked ladies; in itself a shocking thing to most people at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century.

A little more playful from c 1910

The only nude women most people would have seen would have been classical painting and sculpture if they lived in cities.  Initially the photographers copied this style so as to take advantage of the outraged cry of pornographers throughout history: " But its Art!"

circa 1900

Otherwise men wouldn't have seen their first naked woman until their wedding night and maybe not even then.  Going to bed naked is a comparatively recent development and most people would have worn nightclothes and had sex with the lights off; the experience would not have been a visual one. 

circa 1910

It was the huge rise in popularity of photographic postcards at the beginning of the 1900s that saw an equivalent rise in the mass production of risque pictures. 

circa 1915

Most of these cards were produced anonymously.  The fact that they were widely available didn't mean that the authorities, or the Church, approved of them and many photographers, distributors and salesmen risked getting their stocks confiscated.

circa 1918

Because of the anonymous nature and myriad publishers and editions, dating these cards is very difficult.  The best guideline is hair styles.  Long hair was popular up until the first world war.  In the 1920s much shorter hair became popular until by the thirties the styles were still short but a little looser.


The level of naughtiness, particularly with girl/girl cards is another indicator.  The older cards retain the faux classical looks and poses.  After the First World War the girls are more likely to be seen interacting with each other.  By the nineteen twenties and thirties implied or demonstrably lesbian poses were more common.


Postcards during this period were rather like e-mails today with the postal services delivering millions of postcards every year as people exchanged their news.  In 1911, for example, 123 million postcards were published in France alone. 

Late twenties


Picture postcards featuring naked girls first appeared at the turn of the century and created the sort of problems that the internet did a few years ago as regards "objectionable material", especially concering the transmission of this material across national borders where different standards applied. 

Part of a series from the late twenties

In France, there were few issues as regards the sending of these initial artistic nudes through the post (c.f. the issues that the publishers of Playboy and Penthouse had with the postal services in the US and Britain over fifty years later).  In reality, most of the naughty Bristol board 31/2" x 51/2" cards were bought for collections rather than to post.  Many of these were produced for the use of artists who had no access to models (or at least, that was the initial justification) and they featured coy "classical" poses. 

The slightly naughtier cards appeared later and thrived during the First World War when they were very popular with the soldiers on the front.  Publishers started to issue short series of five or ten cards telling a little story or showing the same model or models in different views.

These postcards continued to be made until World War Two. Next time we will look at some from the nineteen thirties.

1 comment:

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