Le bordel de Venise (The Venice Brothel) is in truth Georges Drains’ only truly erotic illustration project, but what a small triumph it is. Just eight illustrations plus a headpiece and a small title page drawing, produced in full-colour and two-colour versions, each is a masterpiece in composition and subtle colouring. Privately published under the artist’s pseudonym of ‘Couperyn’, it is a pity that he produced nothing else quite like it.

Le bordel de Venise is one of the many stories contained in the Marquis de Sade’s Juliette, ou les prospérités du vice (Juliette, or the Rewards of Vice). Arriving in Venice as the possessor of a large ill-gotten amount of money, in order not to appear suspicious with such a considerable fortune Juliette and her friends make the most of their charms and open a sophisticated brothel with boudoirs and dungeons, masks and whips, enough to indulge in the most frantic debauchery.

Sade knew Venice and its many hidden corners well, so the detailed descriptions in Juliette are as convincing and titillating as are these bewitching illustrations.

The Drains/Couperyn-illustrated Bordel de Venise was published in ‘Venezia’ (actually of course Paris) ‘Aux dépends des philosophes libertins’ (at the expense of some libertine philosophers) in a limited numbered edition of 250 copies.

We are very grateful to Hans-Jürgen Döpp and Phyllis Eccleston for these images.