Pascin’s Erotikon, a large portfolio with nine heliogravures, is one of the rare treasures of erotic art, as only forty copies were produced and few sets have remained complete.
Heliogravure is praised by print specialists, who marvel at its incomparably rich palette of blacks and shades of grey, its breadth of tonal range and its exquisite expressiveness. This photo-mechanical process, the earliest way of reproducing photographs first developed in the mid-nineteenth century, involves ‘graining’ a copper plate with an all-over pattern, then coating it with a light-sensitive gelatin tissue which had been exposed to a film positive, and then etching it, resulting in a high quality plate that can reproduce accurately the detailed continuous tones of a photograph.
Pascin learned the technique late in his career, possibly from his friend Jean-Gabriel Daragnés, for it was in Daragnés’ studio in Montmartre that the Erotikon plates were stored until the portfolios were made up three years after Pascin’s suicide.
Each of the nine plates illustrates what at first might appear to be an innocent domestic scene with children, pets and toys scattered around bedrooms and parlours, but on closer inspection nearly everyone – even the toys and pets – is involved in some kind of sexual exploration, from exhibitionism and self-stimulation to voyeurism and oral sex. Erotikon is rare among erotic portfolios in that, like some of von Bayros’s prints, it depicts characters with whom the viewer can immediately identify, involved in what might be characterised as imaginable everyday eroticism.
Pascin’s erotic imagination in these prints is prodigious, and so is his artistic and technical skill. Each image is meticulously composed, his characters sensitively portrayed in detailed and varied linework, the whole expertly printed by a master printer.
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.