Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Illustrations for La Duchesse ou la Femme Sylphide by Rétif de la Bretonne

Here is another set of eighteenth century-set frolics by an anonymous artist.  Whilst not as polished as the work of some of the artists we have featured so far, they do communicate a certain joie de vivre at the sexual antics depicted.

These are from a set of twenty illustrations to a 1948 edition of La Duchesse ou la Femme Sylphide by Rétif de la Bretonne, which was published in a very limited edition of about two hundred copies. 

Nicolas-Edme Rétif (or Restif) was born in the Burgundy region of France in 1734.  As a young man, after a religious eductaion by the controversial Jansenist sect, he was apprenticed to a printer in Auxerre. 

He married in 1760 and about six years after this had his first writings published, having moved to Paris.

Over the course of his life Rétif wrote over 200 hundred books covering many subjects, although many of them he self-published and printed himself.

He wrote many novels and short stories, a book attacking the Marquis de Sade's book Justine (the two men disliked each other intensely), a book calling for the regulation of prostitution and a sixteen volume autobiography, Monsieur Nicolas.

Having lost a lot of money during the turmoil of the French Revolution he was later favoured by the Thermidor movement, who had ousted the original revolutionaries, but his aristocratic friends and his reputation counted against him.  Napoleon came to his rescue and offered him a position in the police ministry but he died, in 1806, before he could start the job.

We have been unable to find out anything about the book, other than the fact that it was written in 1783.  Perhaps someone knows more about it.

The sexual acts depicted in the illustrations are varied.  The final two, here, show female to female and female to male postillionage, which are rather more unusual in erotic illustrations such as this.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Illustrations from Point de Lendemain by Leo Fontan (1884-1965)

We've just posted a number of elegant illustrations of women's be-stockinged legs by French illustrator Leo Fontan on our Venus Observations blog.  Coincidentally, he also produced a number of illustrations that fit with our current eighteenth century theme here on The Seduction of Venus. 

They are from  a 1935 limited edition of Point de Lendemain (no tomorrow) by Vivant Denon (1747-1825).  First published in 1777 it tells the story of the amorous adventures a young man in an initially, to him, baffling aristocratic society.  

Denon was originally a diplomat but fled Paris at the outset of the French Revolotions.  He returned, to ensure his property in Paris wasn't confiscated, and was soon back working under the new government.  He was appointed to accompany Napoleon to Egypt and produced his illustrated Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt in 1802.  

He then became director of the Louvre Museum and then travelled Europe, at the behest of Napoleon, acquiring art for it.  After Napoleon's defeat in 1815 the allies insisted that much of the art collected by Denon from conquered territories had to be returned to its rightful owners and he, unwillingly, oversaw the repatriation of over 5,000 works of art in the months after Waterloo. 

Fontan's watercolour illustrations for Point de Lendemain have the requisite powdered wigs and stockings of the period in question.  On the whole they feature figures and one piece of furniture with plain backgrounds.

One of the illustrations, however, has a fully rendered background, featuring a copulating couple admiring themselves in a mirrored wall, which is completely charming.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Illustrations from Le Livre de la Marquise by Konstantin Somov (1869-1939)

Konstantin Somov was one of Russia's greatest painters, equally at home with portraits, illustrations and landscapes.  His landscape, The Rainbow (1927) set   the record for the price at auction for a piece of Russian art when it was sold in 2007 for $7.33 million.

He was a founder member of the Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) movement along with the likes of Leon Bakst.  Set up in 1898, the following year they published a magazine with the same name.

Somov was the son of the curator of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and studied at the Academy of Arts there from 1888 until 1897.  From 1897 until 1899 he lived in Paris.

Somov was fascinated, not just be eighteenth century painting, but also the music of the time so it is no surprise to see him producing illustrations set in the period.

The influence of Watteau and Fragonard is evident in these illustrations, especially in this amusing picture of a lady using a chamber pot.

These illustrations are from a book of erotic short stories published in St Petersburg in 1918 called Le Livre de la Marquise at a time when the Russian Revolution had resulted in a temporary end to censorship in the country.

Somov had been working on these illustrations since the turn of the century.  Interestingly, a later edition contained more explicit pictures including different versions of some of the originals, as can be seen above.

In the nineteen twenties Somov moved, briefly, to the United States but was not happy there and returned to Paris where he lived for the rest of his life.