French romantic writer Théophile Gautier’s 1836 novel Fortunio was the last book illustration project to be completed by Gerda Wegener. Commissioned by publisher Georges Briffaut before Einar Wegener’s death, it took Gerda a long time to complete the sixteen detailed plates, but they are among the best she ever produced. Originally entitled L’Eldorado, Fortunio tells of the mysterious Fortunio, ‘son of the East’, who creates for himself an oriental paradise in the heart of Paris, and whose protegés, the dandy George and Musidora, ‘she of the beautiful sea-green-eyes’, are left to wonder what of Fortunio’s world is real and what is fantasy.
It may be that Gautier’s semi-fantasy world was not unlike what Gerda was feeling as she completed the illustrations for Fortunio, and the last of them, of Musidora lying pensively half-naked in front of a roaring fire, can easily also be seen as a self-portrait of Gerda.
The Wegener-illustrated Briffaut edition of Fortunio was produced in a limited numbered edition of 392 copies.