La légende des sexes, poèmes hystériques et profanes (Legend of the Sexes: hysterical and secular poems) was French poet Edmond Haraucourt’s first published work, appearing in 1882 when he was 26 years old under the pseudonym Le Sire de Chambley. Like Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal, the subject matter which includes violent love and sexual allusion might seem rather tame today, but at the time it was subject to both censure and censorship.
We can only guess why Villa was moved to illustrate Haraucourt with these twelve colourful illustrations, the only truly erotic book illustration portfolio he produced. Maybe he had come across Frans de Geetere’s powerful images from a few years earlier, which you can see here. Villa’s and de Geetere’s circles would quite likely have overlapped.
The Villa-illustrated Haraucourt was published at l’Enseigne du Bibliophallus (which speaks for itself), in a limited numbered edition of 210 copies.