Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504

La femme et le serpent (The woman and the snake) is Series 64 of the La Librairie de L’estampe colour postcard sets, probably first published in 1916 and on sale throughout the 1920s.

The link between woman, snake/serpent, temptation and death is a powerful theme that has echoed throughout Western history. The two best-known examples are Eve’s temptation by a serpent to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the gardens of Paradise, and the death of Cleopatra, in popular belief as the result of being bitten by an asp or Egyptian cobra, though she is more likely to have poisoned herself using either a toxic ointment or by introducing the poison with a sharp implement such as a hairpin.

Hans Makart, The Death of Cleopatra, c.1880

In Suzanne Meunier’s dark and expertly-composed paintings for this series, it is clearly the temptation aspect of femininity that is intended to attract the publisher’s interest. It is perhaps interesting to note that in her depictions of woman and snake it appears to be the women who are very much in charge of the encounter.