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From erotic to satanic and beyond: Exploring the legacy of Félicien Rops

July 7, On This Day


Painter, illustrator, caricaturist, prolific printmaker, Symbolist — these are just a few of the many hats worn by Belgian artist Félicien Rops, who is less of a widely known name and more widely appreciated within the art world itself.

Born on July 7, 1833, Rops is considered a pioneer of Belgian comics. He is best known today for his prints and drawings illustrating erotic and occult literature of the 1800s. He passed away in August 1898.

Rops is celebrated as an illustrator by publishers, authors, and poets of his time, and provided frontispieces and illustrations for Jules Barbey d\’Aurevilly, Charles Baudelaire, Théophile Gautier, Voltaire, and more. He also produced oil paintings including landscapes, seascapes, and genre paintings.

Rops was born into a wealthy bourgeois family. When young, he progressed from working with student magazines to co-founding his own journal, The Uylenspiegel, a weekly artistic and literary satirical review to which he contributed one or two lithographs an issue. At the age of 24, he married the daughter of a wealthy magistrate and enjoyed the comfortable life of a country gentlemen for some years. Rops became estranged from his wife following scandals and extramarital affairs, and eventually lived in a throuple with the Duluc sisters.

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Circa 1862, Rops became a restless experimenter with etching techniques. In later years, he co-invented a new soft ground varnish method dubbed the \”Ropsenfosse\”. He was invited to join Les XX or Les Vingt, a group of Belgian artists formed in 1883, which over the years included the likes of James Ensor, Fernand Khnopff, Anna Boch, Paul Signac and others.

Some of his critics dismiss him as a novel, 19th-century illustrator/pornographer, but others look beyond the erotica and write of him respectfully. Wikipedia writes: “Rops was a prolific and versatile artist. In addition to works of fine art depicting genre subjects, still-life, landscapes, decadent nightlife, eroticism, and iconic symbolist works like Pornocrates, he produced hundreds of comics, caricatures, book illustrations, and even an occasional advertisement. His style could sway from realism, to symbolism, and at times even touch on romanticism and impressionism.”

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