A second selection of Monnier erotic engravings, similar to the Nordmann collection but much smaller, found its way to the collector Hans-Jürgen Döpp, who published them under the title La bonheur de la vie quotidienne (The Happiness of Everyday Life). Some are the same as Nordmann copies but in different colourings (each engraving was hand-coloured), together with several not included there.
What is particularly noticeable about Monnier’s erotic images is that they are entirely believable scenes of sexual exploration – the bodies are well-observed and drawn, the faces display genuine feeling, and they are mostly clearly enjoying themselves. We tend to think of the eighteenth century as a time of modesty and convention, but though these images are nearly two centuries old they remind us of the joyful nature of innocent intimate encounter, and of the natural curiosity of the participants.
As Hans-Jürgen writes in the introduction to La bonheur (which can be ordered from his website), ‘Curiosity is the theme of the small watercolour which shows the viewer standing behind a screen. What does he see? Just crossed legs. But we can tell from his shadow just how much what we see arouses him. The showman with the peepbox also benefits from the voyeurism of his curious female visitors: they look excitedly into exotic possibilities. Sexual curiosity is the source of all enlightenment, even for the little girl who looks carefully at the two zebras in the zoo. What does the mother reply to her innocently-asked question? A stocky Aphrodite raises her veil in front of the student who is amazed at her curves, awakening his desire. Is it the mother of the bride who, half hidden by the curtain, follows the loveplay of the young couple with greedy eyes? What is her left hand doing? And the scene which shows the gentleman in a yellow vest with two naive playmates in the hayloft is also about observing: they look in amazement at the strange self-erecting structure that escapes his trousers, but he delights in the vision.’
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.