The King Baudouin Foundation’s Heritage Fund has acquired a major work by the artist Félicien Rops. The only drawing in colour known of today from the Diaboliques series was offered to the Musée Rops by a private collector.
It was the Parisian publisher Lemerre who commissioned Rops to illustrate the new edition of Les Diaboliques, a collection of 9 short stories by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly. A dandy and decadent writer par excellence, Barbey d’Aurevilly had already produced a first edition in 1874, but the public was so shocked by the book that he was obliged to agree to it being destroyed.
The second edition appeared in 1882. Rops read each of the stories and used them as inspiration to produce ten drawings.
In the drawing of La Sphinge (The Female Sphinx), Satan, dressed as a 19th century dandy spies on a woman who has her arms around the neck of a stone sphinx. Omnipresent in the decadent imagination, the sphinx incarnated the cruel femme fatale and recalled Medusa’s petrifying stare. The presence of the woman, languishing on the stone sculpture, ready to be and to do evil under the eye of the Devil, conveys both the spirit of the time and that of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s writing.
In bringing together sensuality and morbidity, Rops caught the spirit of modernity of his age. The drawing is also a good example of Rops’s critical regard of the moral order at the end of the 19th century.
The drawing has been entrusted to the Rops Museum in Namur, where it will join two other works from the King Baudouin Foundation Collection, La Dame au pantin (Woman with a Puppet) and Dans les coulisses (In the Wings).