Paul Verlaine’s notorious Oeuvres libres consists of three collections of poems – Les amies (1867), sonnets in praise of lesbian love; Femmes (1890), a homage to Verlaine’s women friends and lovers; and Hommes (1890), inspired by his homosexual experiences. Officially banned by the French government until 1949, they circulated widely underground, and it was almost the duty of any erotic illustrator to provide a graphic accompaniment to Verlaine’s verses. Berthomme Saint-André’s opportunity came with a commission from specialist publisher Henri Pasquinelli, interestingly excluding the homosexual poems of Hommes.
Saint-André clearly relished the challenge, and produced some of his best erotic illustration to accompany Verlaine’s verses. He puts Verlaine himself (with his trademark bald head) into many of the images, emphasising the autobiographical thread in much of the poetry.
The Saint-André-illustrated Verlaine was published in a limited numbered edition of 250 copies, the coloured prints presented in an accompanying folder.