Galante Literature

about Édouard-Henri Avril

Édouard-Henri Avril was a soldier before starting his career in art. He was awarded with the Legion of Honour for his actions in the Franco-Prussian War. Biographical material of his life is scarce due to obscene nature of his work, and because he worked under a pseudonym of “Paul Avril”. He studied art in various Paris salons. From 1874 to 1878 he was at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He worked for the illustrated newsmagazine Le Monde illustré in 1882.

Having been commissioned to illustrate Théophile Gautier’s novel Fortunio, he adopted his pseudonym. His reputation was soon established and he received many commissions to illustrate both major authors and the so-called “galante literature” of the day, a form of erotica. However, his reputation as a commercial illustrator of novels was established before he began illustrating the more underground erotic literature. These books were typically sold in small editions on a subscription basis, organised by collectors.



Erotica of that time received very limited prints and sometimes were limited to only 100 or so copies, or were sold only within exclusive circles of collectors. Because of the obscurity of Édouard-Henri and his works, it is difficult to assess the real impact that his art might have had on culture.

His major work was designs for De Figuris Veneris: A Manual of Classical Erotica by the German scholar Friedrich Karl Forberg. Another important work was John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure), which was a significant and controversial publication of its time as it was the first novel to bring erotica to English literature. The book’s edition illustrated by Avril includes Les charmes de Fanny exposés that is one of his better known pictures. He illustrated such works as Gustave Flaubert‘s Salammbô, Gautier’s Le Roi Caundale, Jean Baptiste Louvet de Couvray’s Adventures of the Chevalier de Faublas, Mario Uchard’s Mon Oncle Barbassou — scenes in a harem, Jules Michelet’s The Madam, Hector France’s Musk, Hashish and Blood, the writings of Pietro Aretino, and the anonymous lesbian novel Gamiani.


Classicizing works illustrated by Édouard-Henri include Oeuvres d’Horace — 1887, Une nuit de Cléopâtre — 1894, Daphnis et Chloé — 1898, and Les sonnets luxurieux de l’Aretin — 1904. He might be best known for his sapphic, or lesbian, illustrations.

Prolific erotica collector Henry Spencer Ashbee commissioned Avril to design a bookplate for him. He worked with Octave Uzanne, who after leaving the Société des Amis des Livres, which he found too conservative and too concerned with the reissue of old works, started two new bibliographic societies. The Société des Bibliophiles Contemporaines — 1889–1894 — consisted of 160 people from literary circles, including Édouard-Henri.



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