Gérard Nordmann (1930–92) was probably the most prolific collector in the annals of erotic literature. Jewish by birth, Swiss by nationality, his family owned a chain of department stores, including Le Printemps, so money rarely got in the way of his collecting. His collection included much unique material, including Sade’s autograph manuscript for 120 Journées de Sodome, the autograph manuscript of Histoire d’O, the only extant copy of the first edition of Aretino’s Sonnetti Lussuriosi, and the first edition of Alexandre-Jean-Joseph le Riche de la Popeliniere’s 1750 Tableaux des moeurs du temps. He also had the most complete collection of Monnier’s erotic works ever put together.

When the Nordmann collection was sold at auction by Christie’s in 2006, Lot 274 was described as ‘Album de 57 feuillets avec 73 lithographies, montées et coloriées, et le titre pour Cours de morale pratique: les grisettes, signé dans la pierre ‘Monnier’, Paris, vers 1829. Très bel ensemble de lithographies attribuées à Henry Monnier, en bel état.’ (Album of 57 leaves with 73 lithographs, mounted and coloured, and the title page for Cours de morale pratique: les grisettes, signed ‘Monnier’ in the plate, Paris, circa 1829. Very good set of lithographs attributed to Henry Monnier, in good condition). The album was apparently bought by the collector Alexandre Dupouy, who two years later produced a small book entitled Les grisettes en enfer, published by Éditions Astarte.

Not all the images in the collection come from a single source; some appear to come from the Cours de morale pratique (Instructions for Moral Practice), seventeen smaller ones from a separate collection called Grisettes. And what is a ‘grisette’? As Alexandre Dupouy explains in the preface to Les grisettes en enfer, a grisette refers to ‘a tender-hearted working class young woman of easy virtue’. Cours de morale pratique was in fact the much rarer ‘grisettes’ album that Monnier produced on the subject, the version for a mass audience being his 1828 portfolio Les grisettes: leurs moeurs, leurs habitudes, leurs bonnes qualités, leurs préjugés, leurs erreurs, leurs faiblesses, &tc, dessinés d'après nature au sein de leurs plaisirs, de leurs occupations, &tc, &tc (Grisettes: their manners, their habits, their qualities, their prejudices, their errors, their weaknesses, &tc, drawn from nature to reflect their pleasures, their occupations, &tc, &tc). Some title.

A plate from Les grisettes

A portfolio of 42 colour plates, each with an appropriate caption, Les grisettes was one of Monnier’s early successes, putting both himself and the concept of the grisette firmly on the map of 1820s Paris. The clandestine follow-up of portfolios of engravings of grisettes in more daring situations was an almost inevitable development. Both this and the other 1829 portfolio shown here were probably not sold as a defined set; they were more likely collected into albums as their select audience were able to procure them.

The Astarte publication Les grisettes en enfer is a limited edition of 1,000 copies, of which a limited number are still available for sale from the publisher; for more details click here.