An accomplished engraver with a sharp ironic eye and a whimsical imagination, Maurice François Alfred Martin van Miële is better known by his pseudonym Martin van Maële. His mother, from whom he adopted the name van Maële, was Flemish, and his father, Louis Alfred Martin – himself an engraver and later a teacher at the Beaux-Arts school in Geneva – was French. Martin van Maële grew up in Boulogne sur Seine near Paris; mostly self-taught, he worked as a freelance illustrator in Paris and Brussels.
A turning point in his career was a meeting in 1899 with the notorious English erotica collector and publisher Charles Carrington, who recognised in van Maële’s work the perfect visual complement to the risqué texts for which Carrington saw a ready market. Carrington became van Maële’s patron and employer, and for the next few years van Maële was the most popular of Carrington’s illustrators, working on the most important of his publications. Carrington entrusted to van Maële at least eight of the flagellation novels that became a staple of the French erotic book trade. The high point of van Maële’s work came in 1905–7, when he produced La grande danse macabre des vifs, and fifteen powerful etchings for Paul Verlaine’s ‘erotic trilogy’.
Alongside his trademark erotica, Van Maële also illustrated classics, starting with the illustrations for H. G. Wells’ Les premiers hommes dans la lune (The First Men on the Moon), published by Félix Juven in 1901; he also illustrated Juven’s editions of Sherlock Holmes.
Martin van Maële married Marie Françoise Genet; the couple had no children. He died in 1926 while working on the illustrations for an edition of Aretino.