How Székely imagined himself? A 1959 self-portrait.

Alexander Székely was born and grew up in Budapest, and started his artistic life as a street artist in Vienna, selling rapidly-drawn portraits and caricatures to make a living. This skill was noticed in the early 1930s by directors at the city’s many cabarets; between 1931 and 1933 he was working with Stella Kadmon at Der Liebe Augustin, and between 1934 and 1937 with Hans Margulies at the ABC. His ‘portraits in minutes’ became an integral part of the cabaret experience for many of their clientele.

The first of many illustrated portfolios, nearly all one-off sets of drawings commissioned by wealthy clients, appeared in 1935, and by 1939 he was working both in Paris, where he became friends with fellow Hungarian emigré Marcel Vertès, and in Vienna.

Székely had a very approachable, often quite naïve, style of erotic drawing, and although much of his artwork portrays conventional fantasy scenes of orgies and risqué cocktail parties (no doubt exactly what his clients wanted), some of his later work shows him to be a talented and imaginative artist. His watercolours for ‘The Temptation of St Anthony’, for example, are arresting and thought-provoking.

An oil painting by Székely from 1939

Because most of his work consists of original artwork rather than prints, the only record we have of most of his work is in the auction sales catalogues of the key erotica collections built up in the 1950s and 60s. By far the most important of these was the collection of Sieglinde and Karl Ludwig Leonhardt, sold at auction in 2009. Karl Ludwig was one of three brothers at the head of the very successful Leonhardt Group of German businesses operating in the automobile, mechanical engineering and tourism sectors. The Székely material sold at that auction consisted of over 300 illustrations in 28 portfolios.

Lonely Path, a more self-reflective drawing from 1938

Another important collection sold at auction in 2006, that of Swiss bibliophile and collector Gérard Nordmann, included 70 Székely illustrations in 5 portfolios.

Alex Székely died in 1968 in Vienna. A selection of his work was published that year as Volks-Erotik: Nichts für Kinder!

Works by Székely

1935   Domina Mea, 10 pencil drawings.
1937   Winter der Front (Winter at the Front), 9 plates, 431x240mm, illustrated cover.
1939   Gemischtes Orchester (Mixed Orchestra), 11 pencil drawings and an illustrated title page.
1939   Scènes orientales érotiques (Oriental Erotic Scenes), 5 enhanced charcoal drawings, 292x218mm.
1939   Mythologies, 10 drawings.
1940   Das Böse Herz: eine Kurzgeschichte (The Evil Heart, A Short Story), 15 illustrations in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, 220x115mm, salmon-coloured cover.
1940   Ein besuch bei dem grossen Jim (A Visit from Big Jim), 15 pencil drawings.
1940   Rouge et Noir (Red and Black), 12 illustrations in colour pencil, illustrated cover.
1940   A Mama Meg a Lanya (Mama Meg and Lanya), 12 pencil drawings.
1940   Játék Rasputinnal (Playing with Rasputin), 5 sanguine drawings.
1941   Der rote Engel (The Red Angel), 10 watercolours, 220x115mm, illustrated cover.
1941   Die rote Susann (The Red Suzann), 15 coloured plates in the style of Edgar Allan Poe.
1941   Ein Pariser Abenteuer (A Parisian Adventure), 20 illustrations.
1941   Chefs-d’oeuvres de l’opéra lyrique (Highlights of Lyric Opera), 4 watercolours.
1941   Vilmas egy bécoi lamy regénye (Vilma, A Viennese Girl’s Story), 12 ink illustrations enhanced with colour on the theme of flagellation.
1942   Was wir unbedingt lesen sollten! Eine illustrierte Kronik grosser Bucherfolge (What We Should Read! An Illustrated Chronicle of Great Books), 15 watercolours, illustrated cover.
1943   Hősszerelmesek (Leading Men), 14 black and white ink drawings.
1943   Lesbiennes (Lesbians), 8 pastel drawings, 370x213mm.
1944   Emlékezetes operettek (Memorable Operettas), 12 prints.
1945   Gulliver Utazása Lillipunciában (Gulliver’s Travels in Lilliput), 21 pages plus cover.
1946   A Kentaurok születése (The Birth of the Centaur), 15 prints, 158x103mm.
1946   Der Weg zum Film, eine Kleine Groteske (The Way to Film, A Small Grotesque), 10 watercolours, 220x155mm.
1946   Igy Löttök Ti (Come On), 15 prints, 158x103mm.
1946   Kezdők és haladók kedzere (Beginners and Experts: An Erotic Alphabet), 23 black and white ink drawings and an illustrated title page.
1946   Point de vue de paradis (The View from Paradise), 10 illustrations in ochre.
1946   Illusztráció François Villon balladáihoz (Illustrations for the Ballads of François Villon), 10 drawings.
1947   Popeye, A Tengeresk Kalandjai Marseilleben (Popeye, Marine Adventures in Marseilles), 16 watercolours, 215x310mm.
1950   Bordély ballada (Brothel Ballads), 12 drawings.
1950   Scènes de lits (Bedroom Scenes), 10 drawings.
1954   Poème d’autumne (Autumn Poem), 10/12 pastel drawings.
1954   Illustrationen zu den Gedichten des Herrn von La Fontaine, 24 watercolours to accompany the Fables.
1956   Szatir Jaték (Satisfaction Game), 10 charcoal drawings, 430x300mm, white cover illustrated with a drawing.
1958   Orfeusz és a menádok (Orpheus and the Menades), 6 drawings.
1959   Szobalányszolgáltatás (Maid Service), 12 watercolours.
1956–62   Szent Antal kísértése (The Temptation of St Anthony), 12 watercolours.
1959   Kebelbarátok (Female Intimacies), 12 watercolours with an illustrated cover.
1961   Álmodtam (I Dreamt), 15 colour illustrations, 443x315mm, white cover illustrated with a watercolour.
1961   La maison à mon gout (A Home to My Taste), 10 illustrations, 430x305mm.
1961   Paul Verlaine, Elles, 10 ochre drawings, 438x310mm.
1962   Vagyalom 15 Tolbrajz Freud emlékéré (Fifteen Figures in Homage to Freud), 15 illustrations, 430x300mm, white cover illustrated with a drawing.
1962   Wunschtraum (Pipe Dream), 15 illustrations in memoriam Sigmund Freud.
1962   Házibuli (House Party), 15 drawings.
1962   In Memoriam Marcel Vertès, 12 drawings.
1964   Damen Kalender (A Calendar of Women), 12 drawings.
1964   Die Schönen des Harems (The Beauty of the Harem), 10 charcoal drawings, 450x320mm, white cover illustrated with a drawing.
1964   Die unvollendete Lekture (The Unfinished Reading), 10 charcoal sketches.
1964   La maison à mon gout (A Home to My Taste), 20 illustrations, 430x305mm.
1964   Les baisers (Kissing), 15 ochre pastels, 450x315mm, white cover.
1964   Ovidius Ars Amandi (Ovid’s Art of Love), 15 illustrations, 428x304mm, cover illustrated with a small watercolour.
1964   Ovidius Metamorphosen (Ovid’s Metamorphosis), 15 illustrations, 430x305mm, cover illustrated with a small watercolour.
1964   Souper de Gala à l’Hôtel Ambassador (Gala Dinner at the Ambassador Hotel), 19 large watercolours, 325x235mm, illustrated cover.
1964   Volpone oder die Komödie des Geldes (Volpone or the Comedy of Money), 25 watercolours, 364x255mm.
1965   Der Paradiesische Augenblick (The Moment in Paradise), 20 illustrations, illustrated cover.
1966   Die gute alte Zeit (The Good Old Times), 21 pencil drawings, 294x208mm.
1968   Volks-Erotik: Nichts für Kinder! (The People’s Erotica: Not for Children!), Karl Schustek, Hanau am Main.

Example illustration