Charles Martin’s Mascarades et amusettes (Mascarades and Amusements) is one of the erotic masterpieces of the 1920s, combining superb design with cutting-edge critique of sexual roles and conventions.
The artistic technique is the style called ‘pochoir’, using clean lines and bold colour to create the hallmark Art Deco images. What Martin brings artistically to these twelve outstanding images is a novel contrast of detailed line-only areas with patches of bright colour, drawing the eye alternately to each before taking in the image as a whole.
And the images as a whole display the whole gamut of erotic possibilities, including bisexual, transsexual, multi-genitaled, cross-genitaled, group sex, upending the whole idea of strict sexual and gender choices. In this landmark portfolio Martin makes us think very hard about what sex is, what we do with it, and what assumptions we make about sex and our erotic lives. It also makes us think about how sex relates to the family (Les joies de la familie), children (Variations sur un air connu and Retour de guerre) and race (En vacances chez l’oncle Tom); quite a package.
Martin gave titles to each of the twelve plates, which gives us even more to think about as we take them in. It is a pity that their rarity has until now made them available only to the collectors with the deepest pockets.
En vacances chez l’oncle Tom (On Holiday with Uncle Tom)
Le jardinier bien avisé (The Wise Gardener)
N’ayez pas peur! (Don’t be Scared!)
Charmante amusette (Charming Amusement)
Chanson de printemps (Spring Song)
Variations sur un air connu (Variations on a Traditional Tune)
Il court, il court, le furet (The Ferret Runs and Runs)
Après le bal masqué (After the Masked Ball)
Un partenaire inattendu (An Unexpected Partner)
Retour de guerre (Back from the War)
Les joies de la familie (The Joys of the Family)
Mascarades et amusettes was published ‘Pour les amateurs, à l’enseigne du nombril de Venus’ (for amateurs, at the sign of Venus’s navel), in a tiny edition of just 63 numbered copies.
We are very grateful to Hans-Jürgen Döpp for these images; Hans-Jürgen, the compiler of many books on erotic art, curates the Venusberg online gallery and bookshop which you can find here.