May den Engelsen’s first book illustration commission was for the Paris publisher René Kieffer’s La Centaine press in 1925. It was to illustrate Les amies by Paul Verlaine, a cycle of five lesbian-themed sonnets first published in 1867 under the pseudonym Pablo de Herlagnez. May’s constant partner and co-conspirator Frans also contributed seven illustrations, and they worked together on the project, producing the prints on the hand-press aboard the Marie-Jeanne.

Two of Frans de Geetere’s illustrations for Les amies

May produced seven engravings for the book, one for each of the five sonnets, ‘Sur le balcon’, ‘Pensionnaires’, ‘Per amica silentia’, ‘Printemps’, ‘Été’ and ‘Sappho’, plus a frontispiece and introductory plate. A total of 111 copies were printed, of which fifteen were specially bound in luxury bindings with an extra set of plates.


We would very much like to include a complete set of high-resolution images – both May’s and Frans’s – for this portfolio, and to identify which illustration accompanies each sonnet. If you can help please let us know.