Les 120 journées de Sodome, ou l’école du libertinage (The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinage) is the lesser-known companion novel to Justine and Juliette by the notorious eighteenth-century French writer and nobleman Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade. Written in 1785, it tells the story of four wealthy male libertines who resolve to experience the ultimate sexual gratification in orgies. To do this, they seal themselves away for four months in an inaccessible castle in the heart of the Black Forest with a harem of thirty-six victims, mostly male and female teenagers, and engage four female brothel keepers to tell the stories of their lives and adventures. The women’s narratives form an inspiration for the sexual abuse and torture of the victims, which gradually mounts in intensity and ends in their slaughter. In many ways the ultimate transgressive novel of sexual torture, the work went unpublished until the early twentieth century.

Although Les 120 journées de Sodome was first published in 1904, it was a poor edition; the Sade specialist Maurice Heine used the original manuscript, bought in 1929 in Berlin for the Vicomte Charles de Noailles, to produce the 1935 version. It was given an introduction and particular care was given to the printing, so in most respects this was the true first edition.

When Gil read Les 120 journées de Sodome, it was the homoerotic aspect of the text that clearly inspired this (for him) small series of images, utilising a limited colour palette to produce strong portrayals of group gay encounters which emphasise the violent aspect of Sade’s narrative.

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.