Mariette Lydis, ‘Femmes–femmes’, c.1930

Lesbiennes is the generic title for a portfolio of lesbian drawings by Mariette Lydis compiled from her recent work at the date it was published. Each of the very few copies of the portfolio known to survive contains a different set of images, and even the publication date is unsure. Jean-Pierre Dutel’s authoritative bibliography of French erotic titles gives the definitive total as ‘25 superb engravings’ in an edition of 81 copies, but a copy sold by Christies in 2006 contained just 23 drawings, ‘one of 77 copies’, and another copy sold by Drouot in 2012 contained just twelve. The assumed date, ‘1926’ written alongside the signature on some of the prints, coincides with her move to Paris, and it is likely that it was access to the booming Parisian market that prompted publication.

The most interesting point about the collection is its subject matter – ‘sapphism’ in the language of its day – and the explicitness of some of the sexual intimacy. We know that Mariette Lydis had several male lovers including the writer Joseph Delteil and the publisher Giuseppe Govone, but while she might not have been an exclusive lesbian she was almost certainly actively bisexual. The images bear all the hallmarks of being drawn from life, and it is hard to imagine that Mariette was not drawn in to the sexual experimentation so rife in the artistic world of mid-1920s Paris.

As you will see, we have only identified a handful of images associated with this portfolio, and some may not be from the collection at all. We would like to include a complete set of the powerful and groundbreaking prints from Lesbiennes, so please let us know if you can help.