A series of Szántó drawings from the early 1920s

As well as being a leading fashion photographer, Szántó was also a talented artist and engraver, though he had little time to pursue these interests. As far as we know he only produced two published portfolios of prints, though a few other erotic artworks exist, including sketches for an erotic alphabet.

The cover of Becker Baby

His first portfolio, Becker Baby, was published in Budapest in 1920, consisting of ten slightly risqué portraits of young women, the title being a wry sideswipe at the saccharine paintings of babies by the German-born American artist Charlotte Becker (1907–84) which were very popular at the time.

If Becker Baby was risqué, Arlequin et Colombine, published five years later under the ‘French’ pseudonym of J. de Chanteau, was altogether more explicit. Arlequin et Colombine (Harlequin and Columbine in English and Arlecchino and Colombina in Italian) are stock figures in the Commedia dell’Arte, a form of Italian theatre extremely popular in the eighteenth century, in which the same recognisable characters play well-defined roles in different scenarios. Harlequin, characterised by his chequered costume, takes the role of a light-hearted, nimble and astute servant, often acting to thwart the plans of his master Pierrot. Harlequin is madly in love with Pierrot’s wife, Columbina, competing for Pierrot’s pedestrian affections towards her with wit and resourcefulness.

In Szántó’s version Herlequin’s approach to the naked Colombine is brazenly sexual, and she is clearly wide open to his advances. Sadly, as in many Commedia dell’Arte performances, it all ends in tears when Pierrot discovers the lovers in flagrante and forbids their liaison, whereupon the impetuous Harlequin decides to end it all.

Arlequin et Colombine shows Szántó’s erotic artistry at its best, with the underlying black print and the well-placed blocks of colour showing his interest in the progressive print techniques of Jugendstil.

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.