May den Engelsen’s first book illustration commission was for the Paris publisher René Kieffer’s La Centaine press in 1925. It was to illustrate Les amies by Paul Verlaine, a cycle of five lesbian-themed sonnets first published in 1867 under the pseudonym Pablo de Herlagnez. May’s constant partner and co-conspirator Frans also contributed seven illustrations, and they worked together on the project, producing the prints on the hand-press aboard the Marie-Jeanne.
May produced seven engravings for the book, one for each of the five sonnets, ‘Sur le balcon’, ‘Pensionnaires’, ‘Per amica silentia’, ‘Printemps’, ‘Été’ and ‘Sappho’, plus a frontispiece and introductory plate. A total of 111 copies were printed, of which fifteen were specially bound in luxury bindings with an extra set of plates.
We would very much like to include a complete set of high-resolution images – both May’s and Frans’s – for this portfolio, and to identify which illustration accompanies each sonnet. If you can help please let us know.