The 1950s are now a lifetime, maybe two, away now, so it can be hard to imagine what the erotic imagination dreamt up in those British postwar austerity years. But one set of rather naive drawings which have rather miraculously survived gives us a clue, both of the ideas then current of what was truly titillating and of the class-ridden sex stereotypes of the time.
The context of the drawings is given by Jamie Maclean in the introduction to a volume of the drawings published in 2005 by The Erotic Print Society.
‘In 1985, in what now seems like a previous incarnation, I had an art gallery in London and, with another art dealer, gave an exhibition of erotic art entitled Forbidden Images. The following year we followed it up with another show, this time of erotic illustration, called The Forbidden Library. In this was a group of twenty drawings in pencil and coloured crayon that we simply named “English School, circa 1955”. At the time, that was our rough estimate of the date of their origination, but now I think it may be earlier. We knew that a further sixty of these drawings were carried out for a single project, far too many to illustrate any single book. Some of these drawings had captions, some were coloured. Their average size was about 12x10cm. And that was it. We always hoped that the other sixty would turn up and sure enough, twenty years later, nearly fifty of them have, kindly lent by their owner, Laurent Delaye.
‘We may never know the exact date, but at some time around 1950 someone who was much better than amateur, most probably an illustrator or commercial artist, set out to depict a stirring tale of great erotic drama. Whether or not there was an accompanying text we do not know.
‘I don’t want to enter into the hoary debate of the differences between erotica and pornography, a subjective minefield at the best of times. But whatever fine moral or aesthetic distinction is placed upon them, these drawings are indisputably powerful, stylish images that are, once seen, difficult to forget. They are both arousing and intriguing with a graphic signature that is highly original. Whether these drawings are classed as erotic illustration or pornographic art is of little consequence. Whether they were done for the purposes of filthy lucre to be sold to the highest bidder or simply because the artist had to do them for his own gratification (i.e. truly ‘erotic’ as the purists might say) doesn’t matter very much.’