Michel Fingesten, Die Trinker (The Drinker), 1919

In both German and English ‘spelunk’ is an old word for a cave, cavern or grotto, from the Latin spelunca and the Greek spelynxAus den Spelunken Berlins is therefore an exploration of the basement dives of Berlin, where alcohol and pleasures of the flesh were to be found.

Wilhelm Wagner’s portfolio with this title was not the first. The first, and better-known, was a joint effort between artists Michel Fingesten and Robert Genin, published by Pan-Presse in 1919 and consisting of eight engraved plates by each artist. Fingesten’s Die Trinker (The Drinker) is considered one of his best early works. The Fingesten-Genin production ran to just fifty copies, and soon sold out.

Im Nachthemd (In the Nightshirt), 1919

It would appear that Wagner, who we know from a number of contemporary sketches was not uninterested in sex, decided that the market was ideal for a reprise of the Spelunken Berlins theme. His version, decidedly racier than its predecessor, was published by the artist a year later, again in a numbered edition of fifty copies.

Wagner’s portfolio demonstrates that his life drawing and compositional skills were just as well-honed as his cityscapes, accomplished and original.

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.