Pierre-Jean de Béranger is described as ‘the most popular French songwriter of all time’ by Larry Portis in his history of popular French music, French Frenzies: A Social History of Pop Music in France. When Béranger first began to cultivate the chanson, it was a minor and little-regarded form, restricted to slight subjects and a humorous guise of treatment. He raised the standing of the art, imbued it with great sentiment, and turned the French song into into an internationally-recognised art form. ‘I am quite a good poet,’ Béranger said of himself, ‘clever in the craft, and a conscientious worker to whom old airs and a modest choice of subjects have brought some success.’ His modest self-appraisal belies his importance in literary history.

By the time Alex Virot produced these hand-coloured illustrations for a selection of Béranger’s Chansons érotiques (Erotic Songs) in 1923, Virot’s only known erotic work, Béranger’s salacious poems had been continuously in print for nearly seventy years, including an edition of 1864 with a frontispiece by Félicien Rops.

The Virot-illustrated edition of Les chansons érotiques de P.-J. Beranger was published ‘Aux dépens d’un amateur’ (at the expense of an amateur collector) in a limited numbered printing of 260 copies.