This clandestine edition of Paul Verlaine’s erotic trilogy Oeuvres libres was published in Paris around 1925 ‘Pour les Bibliophiles’ (only true booklovers were considered worthy of access to such verse). This is by far the most explicit collection of Verlaine’s poems, consisting of three parts – Les amies, sonnets in praise of lesbian love; Femmes, homage to Verlaine’s women friends and lovers; and Hommes, inspired by his homosexual experiences.
Sylvain Vigny must have found this volume in one of Paris’s many backstreet bookshops, and was inspired to illustrate it with the set of pen and ink drawings shown here. They are some of his earliest known work, and demonstrate that he had already developed an easy, free drawing style which was to become a trademark of his later drawings and paintings. To what extent they tell us about the artist’s relationship with the subject matter we can only guess, but they certainly suggest some personal experience of sexual encounter.
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.