19th century erotica  

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Olympia (detail) by Édouard Manet was a succès de scandale when it was first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1865. Today, it is considered as the start of modern art.
Olympia (detail) by Édouard Manet was a succès de scandale when it was first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1865. Today, it is considered as the start of modern art.
In 1877, French artist Édouard Manet exhibited "Nana", a life-size portrayal of a courtesan in undergarments, standing before her fully clothed gentleman caller. The model for it was the popular courtesan Henriette Hauser.
In 1877, French artist Édouard Manet exhibited "Nana", a life-size portrayal of a courtesan in undergarments, standing before her fully clothed gentleman caller. The model for it was the popular courtesan Henriette Hauser.

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The early 19th century was noted by an abscence of both erotic art and erotic literature, generally ascribed to the Neoclassical prudery. In se, eroticism in the 19th century starts in the second half of the century. A significant forerunner in literature was the novelle Gamiani and of course the legacy of Marquis de Sade and other libertine writers.

On a technical level, the century saw the further proliferation of mass produced texts and illustrations. Added to this mix was the new medium of photography, which begot erotic photography shortly afterwards and which led to developments such as erotic postcards.

Some artists and writers straddle the 18th and 19th centuries. Such cases are Casanova (1725 – 1798, but his work was not published until the 19th C), Marquis de Sade (1740 – 1814) Henry Fuseli (1741 - 1825), Goya (1746 – 1828) and Canova (1757 - 1822). Some art movements were only discovered in the West during the 19th century such as the Japanese erotic prints called shunga.

The cultural climate was influenced by Naturalist Darwin who implied that humans were descendant from primates, Richard Francis Burton's sexual anthropology, Havelock Ellis's sexology, all of which countered Victorian prudery. At the end of the century Freud established that sexual drives as the primary motivational forces of human life.

With the arrival of Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, Symbolism and the Decadent movement, Ovid is largely forgotten, except in the eroto-humoristic work of Arnold Böcklin.

The invention of electricity led to the development of the vibrator.


By medium

Visual arts

19th century art

Icons of erotic art of the 19th century were The Great Odalisque (1814) by Ingres, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863) by Édouard Manet, both works publicly exhibited. L'origine du monde (1866) by Gustave Courbet, certainly the most explicit work of erotica of the 19th century, has only been on public display since the 1990s. By far having the largest influence on erotic mores, was the academic art ("Erotic Frigidaire") and its offshoot exotic painting. These in turn influenced the content of lithography, which towards the end of the century delivered the first pin-ups in such magazines as La Vie Parisienne.

Prints and drawings

erotic prints

Some important names in the area of the printmaking were Achille Devéria (Les petits jeux innocents), Peter Fendi, Paul Gavarni ("glory hole" caricature)[1], Johann Nepomuk Geiger, Grandville (Venus at the Opera, Résurrection de la censure), Heinrich Lossow[2], Henry Monnier, Eugène le Poitevin, Félicien Rops, Mihály Zichy.


history of erotic photography

In the middle of the 19th century, the first erotic daguerreotype stereographs appeared on the Paris market. These were almost invariably anonymous. Only a few photographers acknowledged production of daguerreotype nudes: Félix-Jacques Moulin, Jean Louis Marie Eugène Durieu , Louis Jules Duboscq-Soleil, Auguste Belloc, Bruno Braquehais, Louis d'Olivier and Vallou de Villeneuve. A collection of their work can be found on Wikimedia commons Vintage nude photographs.

The first obscene censorship trial had as its object some photographs of Félix-Jacques Moulin. In 1851, Moulin's work was confiscated, and he was sentenced to one month of imprisonment for the "obscene" character of his works, "so obscene that even to pronounce the titles (...) would be to commit an indecency" according to the court archives [3].


19th century literature, 19th_century_French_erotica#Literature, French_erotic_literature#Template:XIXe_si.C3.A8cle


Preoccupation with human animal contact

"Hostile Forces" (1902) is a detail of the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt. Much like Alfred Kubin's "Lubricity" (1902) and "The Ape" (1903-1906) it echoes Emmanuel Frémiet's sculptures Gorilla Carrying off a Woman (1887) and An Orang Outan Strangling a Young Borneo Savage (1895), showing the dark fin de siècle fascination with human female/ape contact.

Shift from preoccupation with "damsel in distress" to "femme fatale"

User:Jahsonic/shift in 19th century culture from the persecuted maiden to the femme fatale

Mario Praz in Romantic Agony notes how damsel in distress trope at the beginning of the century shifts to the femme fatale trope at the fin de siecle.

Skinny beauty ideal in the fin de siècle

The proto-pin-ups of France of the fin de siècle period, especially those of Raphael Kirchner (1867– 1917) and Léo Fontan (1884 - 1965), launched the heroin chic look. Never before in the history of the female nude, have models looked so skinny. This predilection for the emaciated female form is also evident in the work of contemporary artist Franz von Bayros (1866 - 1924). See for example, this print[4] Tantalus (1908) from Der Toilettentisch and Erwartung by Otto Goetze (1868 - 1931).

And in the region of "high art", both the women of Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918) and Egon Schiele (1890 – 1918) are thin. One notable exception in the work of Klimt is his Danaë. Another,less known, is Démasquée (1888) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

By region


English erotica, Victorian erotica

The 19th century in Great Britain largely coincides with the Victorian era and its prudery, now known as Victorian morality. There was a thriving pornographic market centered in London at Holywell Street, curbed in 1857 by the first Obscene Publications Act.

Theresa Berkley and "Le vice Anglais"

Theresa Berkley

Theresa Berkley (died September 1836) was a 19th century British dominatrix who ran a brothel in at 28 Charlotte Street, just to the north of Soho, London specialising in flagellation. She is notable as the inventor of the Berkley Horse, a piece of BDSM apparatus. England was quite known for its preference for sadomasochist erotica, referred to as Le vice Anglais.

First collectors

Henry Spencer Ashbee, Frederick Hankey, Charles Carrington

Frederick Hankey (1823, Corfu, Greece - 1882) was a British bibliophile. Retiring from the military in 1840, Hankey moves to Paris where he indulges in his passion of erotic literature, particularly of the sadistic variety. Ashbee compared him to Marquis de Sade "without the intellect". Hankey supplied sado-masochistic erotica to Swinburne, Richard Burton and Richard Monckton Milnes.

Henry Spencer Ashbee (21 April 1834 – 29 July 1900) was a book collector, writer, and bibliographer, notorious for his massive, clandestine three volume bibliography of erotic literature written under the pseudonym of Pisanus Fraxi. His Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the first of his trilogy on erotic literature was privately printed in London in 1877. He is also presumed to be the author of My Secret Life.

Charles Carrington (11 November 1867 - 15 October 1921) was a leading British publisher of erotica in late-19th and early 20th century Europe, including flagellation novels that were illustrated by the illustrator Martin van Maële. Born Paul Harry Ferdinando in Bethnal Green, England, he published in Paris where he also managed a bookshop and for a short period of time moved his activities to Brussels. Carrington also published works of classical literature, including the first English translation of Aristophanes "Comedies," and books by famous authors such as Oscar Wilde and Anatole France, in order to hide his "undercover" erotica publications under a veil of legitimacy. Carrington died at St-Ivry, France.


Swinburne, Oscar Wilde, Richard Francis Burton

Sir Richard Francis Burton (19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890) was known for his travels and explorations within Asia and Africa as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. Burton's best-known achievements include traveling in disguise to Mecca, making an unexpurgated translation of The Book of One Thousand Nights and A Night (the collection is more commonly called The Arabian Nights in English because of Andrew Lang's abridgment) and the Kama Sutra. See also: Scandals in the life of Richard Burton.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (April 5, 1837 – April 10, 1909) was a Victorian era English poet. His poetry was highly controversial in its day, much of it containing recurring themes of sadomasochism, death-wish, lesbianism and irreligion. Swinburne is considered a decadent poet, although he perhaps professed to more vice than he actually indulged in, a fact which Oscar Wilde famously and acerbically commented upon, stating that Swinburne was "a braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestializer."

Oscar Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish playwright, novelist, poet, and short story writer primarily known for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. As the result of a famous trial, he suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned for two years of hard labour after being convicted of the offence of "gross indecency". The scholar H. Montgomery Hyde suggests this term implies homosexual acts not amounting to buggery in British legislation of the time.

Towards modern sexology

Havelock Ellis, history of sexology

Henry Havelock Ellis (2 February 1859 - 8 July 1939) was a British sexologist, physician, and social reformer, noted for his seven volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex and for his translation of Against the Grain by Joris-Karl Huysmans.

Visual arts

Aubrey Beardsley, William Etty

Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (21 August 1872 – 16 March 1898) was an English illustrator and author of the Decadents, best known for his erotic illustrations. His emphasis of the erotic element is present in many of his drawings, but nowhere as boldly as in his illustrations for Lysistrata which were done for a privately printed edition at a time when he was totally out of favor with polite society. One of his last acts after converting to Catholicism was to plead with his publisher to "destroy all copies of Lysistrata and bad drawings...by all that is holy all obscene drawings." His publisher, Leonard Smithers, not only ignored Beardsley wishes, but continued to sell reproductions and outright forgeries of Beardsley's work.

William Etty (York 10 March 1787 – 13 November 1849) was an English painter, best known for his paintings of nudes, such as Standing Female Nude, Sleeping Nymph and Satyrs (1828) and one of Gyges of Lydia.


19th century French erotica, French can-can, Moulin Rouge, 19th century Paris, 19th century French literature, modern art

Key figures include Charles Baudelaire, Alfred Binet, Gustave Courbet, Achille Devéria, Théophile Gautier, Jules Gay, Edouard Manet, Octave Mirbeau, Alfred de Musset, Félicien Rops, Bénedict-Auguste Morel


Ingres (1780 – 1867)
Achille Devéria (1800 - 1857)
Eugène le Poitevin (1806 -1870)
Gustave Courbet (1819 - 1877)
Edouard Manet (1832 - 1883)
Félicien Rops (1833 - 1898)
Jules Lefebvre (1836 - 1911)
Félix Vallotton (1865 -1925)


Printers of erotica in the late 1800s: Jules Gay, Henry Kistemaeckers, Auguste Poulet-Malassis, Isidore Liseux

Alcide Bonneau's translations
Octave Uzanne's bibliomania
Charles Carrington
Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal and Les Épaves and subsequent trial.
Théophile Gautier
Octave Mirbeau
Alfred de Musset
Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly
Pierre Louÿs
Alfred Binet
French academic art


Danish erotica


German erotica

Towards modern sexology


Visual arts


Hungarian erotica

Mihály Zichy

United States

American erotica, Sarah Goodridge

Anthony Comstock

Anthony Comstock

Anthony Comstock (March 7, 1844 – September 21, 1915) was a former United States Postal Inspector and politician dedicated to ideas of Victorian morality. He was a moral crusader and iconic figure in the history of American censorship. He passed the Comstock laws and came to the international attention with the "September Morn" case.

The Greek Slave

The Greek Slave

The Greek Slave is a marble statue in Raby Castle, carved in Florence by American sculptor Hiram Powers in 1844. Copies of the statue were displayed in a number of venues around Great Britain and the United States, and it quickly became one of Powers' most famous and most popular works. The design of the statue was based upon the Venus de' Medici in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The statue depicts a young woman, nude, bound in chains; in one hand she holds a small cross on a chain. The title suggests that she is some sort of captive, and is on display for sale as a sexual object in an unknown slave market.


The history of Japanese erotica goes back but was imported in Europe during the 19th century.

Japanese erotica

Discovery of Shunga in France, the Goncourts

The discovery of shunga in France by the Goncourts
Rodin, who is full of fawnishness, asks to see my Japanese erotics, and is full of admiration before the women’s drooping heads, the broken lines of their necks, the rigid extensions of arms, the contractions of feet, all the voluptuous and frenetic reality of coitus, all the sculptural twining of bodies melted and interlocked in the spasm of pleasure.” --Journal des Goncourt
«Rodin, qui est en pleine faunerie, me demande à voir mes érotiques japonais, et ce sont des admirations devant ces dévalements de têtes de femmes en bas, ces cassements de cou, ces extensions nerveuses des bras, ces contractures des pieds, toute cette voluptueuse et frénétique réalité du coït, tous ces sculpturaux enlacements de corps fondus et emboîtés dans le spasme du plaisir» (Journal des Goncourt, 3 janvier 1887).
"Jeudi 2 avril — Après un morceau sur les erotiques japonais, ainsi qu'après tous les morceaux que je travaille un peu, il me semble ressentir comme une déperdition érébrale, comme un vide laissé dans ma tête par quelque chose qui en serait sorti, et aurait été pompé par le papier de la copie. --1891, Journal des Goncourt

Edmond de Goncourt wrote one of the first monographies on Japanese artists in Europe. Outamaro: le peintre des maisons vertes (1891), a monograph on Utamaro Kitagawa and Hokusai (1896).



In 1837, De la prostitution dans la ville de Paris (Prostitution in the City of Paris) was published by Alexander Jean Baptiste Parent-Duchatelet. In that study, Parent-Duchatelet provided data from a sample of 3,558 registered prostitutes of Paris. That effort has been called the first work of modern sex research.

In 1886, Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing published Psychopathia Sexualis. That work is considered as having established sexology as a scientific discipline.

In 1887, the French French psychologist Alfred Binet published "Du Fétichisme dans l’amour."

In 1897, Havelock Ellis, a British sexologist, co-authored the first English medical text book on homosexuality, Sexual inversion (Das Konträre Geschlechtsgefühle). (The original German-languaged edition was published in 1896.) A friend of Edward Carpenter, Ellis was one of the first sexologists who did not regard homosexuality as a disease, immoral, or a crime. He preferred the term inversion to homosexuality, and developed concepts such as autoerotism and narcissism, which were later adopted by Sigmund Freud. He is regarded as having been one of the most influential scholars in opposing Victorian morality regarding sex.


The early 19th century is notable for its absence of erotica. The United Kingdom and France define public indecency, obscenity as threats to the public order.












The annus mirabilis is 1857. In France that year there were three high-profile trials: against Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, and Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères du Peuple.

In 1857, Charles Baudelaire publishes the poetry anthology Les Fleurs du mal (1857), some of the poems are banned by the French government. Likewise, Gustave Flaubert gets in to legal trouble with the publication of Madame Bovary (1857). The French doctor Bénedict-Auguste Morel publishes a treatise on degeneracy titled Treatise on the Physical, Intellectual and Moral Degeneration of the Human Race (1857) and in the UK, book censorship is for the first time systematically enforced with the The Obscene Publications Acts.









"Yes, there is no doubt about it, this is an age which has a liking for unsavoury conduct. Who, after all, are the idols of the youth of today? They are Baudelaire, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, and Verlaine: three men of talent admittedly, but a sadistic Bohemian, an alcoholic, and a murderous homosexual." Edmond de Goncourt, The Goncourt Journal, January 27, 1895

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "19th century erotica" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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