This series of French illustrations was first published in 1799 with the overall title Les bigarrures (The Patterns of Colour). They are signed ‘William C.B.’, but the actual artist is unknown; they have been attributed to Dominique Vivant, Baron Denon, the French artist, writer, diplomat, author and archaeologist, but the style is much looser and more colourful than Denon’s known work. In many ways it is closer to that of the English caricaturist William Hogarth.
The nine plates show an exuberant approach to sexuality, with – as is so common – the women mostly naked and the men in a state of semi-undress. They do, however, all mostly appear to be enjoying themselves. The sex is both social and joyful, soldiers, servants, nobles and prelates all participating.
At this period there was little censorship, so plates like this would circulate freely among anyone who could afford them; they were also loose and fragile, so very few copies have survived. This series, hand-coloured, were clearly valued and preserved in a board folder.