Pornokrates (1878), probably Rops’ best-known image.

Many of Rops’ etchings are considered erotic or pornographic in tone, depicting an imaginary underworld or subjects of social decadence. Despite his proclivities, Rops was a printmaker of brilliant technique and original content whose handling of drypoint  (etching directly onto the plate) marks him as one of the masters of the medium. He was also one of the first modern etchers to revive the neglected medium of soft-ground etching, in which the etching ground is melted into and mixed with tallow, producing the effect of lines drawn with a soft pencil or chalk.

In 1889, when Rops was in his late fifties, often ill but still overworking, he decided to sell the rights to reproduce his work to his trusted artist-publisher friend Gustave Pellet, who commissioned Albert Bertrand (1854–1912) to engrave a series of superb compositions in colour from Rops’ drawings and etchings. Rops saw many of these before his death and approved; in a letter to Pellet in 1895 Rops wrote that he derived much satisfaction, and even enchantment, from Bertrand’s work.

As Rops’ reputation grew, both his original engravings and Bertrand’s colour versions were reproduced for a growing clientele; shown here is a wide variety of his work, demonstrating both his skill as an artist and his unique and remarkable imagination.