In December 1978 a series of twelve watercolour illustrations came to auction at the famous Paris house of Drouot. They had been in the collection of the iconoclastic diplomat, historian, author and art collector Roger Peyrefitte (1907–2000), who had bought them some time in the 1950s. Whoever bought them in 1978 needed to sell them again in 2017, when the London auction house Sotheby’s decided that the style and subject matter made it possible to attribute them to Chenavard.
Whether or not they are actually by him, they are very much of the mid-nineteenth century, and fit with what we know of the intelligent, studious, moody artist. In exploring the various ‘sexual positions’ they have much in common with the original classic I modi engravings, and with Édouard-Henri Avril’s versions of 1904, which you can see here. The Chenavard ‘catalogue of positions’ was probably inspired by the artist’s acquaintance with one of the erotic portfolios produced in the late eighteenth century to accompany Pietro Aretino’s I modi, either that by Antoine Borel which you can see here or the one by Agostino Carracci, which is here.