The frontispiece of Gérard Nordmann’s personalised copy of Oeuvres libres.

Paul Verlaine’s notorious Oeuvres libres consists of three collections of poems – Les amies (1867), sonnets in praise of lesbian love; Femmes (1890), a homage to Verlaine’s women friends and lovers; and Hommes (1890), inspired by his homosexual experiences. Officially banned by the French government until 1949, they circulated widely underground, and it was almost the duty of any erotic illustrator to provide a graphic accompaniment to Verlaine’s verses. The prolific Luc Lafnet, using his pseudonym Viset, was no exception.

The illustrations are a fascinating mix of styles, suggesting that Lafnet raided his sketchbooks for many of them. Some are clearly studio studies of naked models used to illustrate selected poems, others are quick sketches created to match specific verses, yet others hardly more than suggestive spacefillers.

The Lafnet-illustrated edition of Oeuvres libres was published by Jean Fort, ostensibly ‘at Eleutheropolis’, a favourite phantom location for erotica of the time, in a numbered edition of 250 copies.