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.