Félicien Rops painted La Sphinge (The Female Sphinx, 1882) for the series of short stories Les Diaboliques. This is the only colour illustration for the stories that we know of today.
It was in 1882, that the Parisian publisher Lemerre asked Rops to illustrate a new edition of the nine Les Diaboliques short stories. Keen to honour his commission, Rops attentively read each story in depth, so that each of his illustrations would perfectly reflect the spirit of the text. When it was first published in 1874, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s work had been deemed so pernicious and shocking that it was quite simply confiscated and destroyed.
La Sphinge is the first illustration in Les Diaboliques and it is perhaps for this reason that Rops chose to do it in colour. Rops shows the relationship of a depraved woman with Satan.
This high-quality drawing is typical of the mood at the turn of the 19th century. It represents a woman with her arms around a stone sphinx, who is being spied upon by Satan, dressed as a 19th century dandy. The sphinx incarnates the cruel femme-fatale. The representation of the woman as one ready to submit to and to do evil is characteristic of the age and the literary work of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly. Rops superbly marries sensuality and the macabre in this drawing. His drawing can also be considered as a critical regard of the moral order at the end of the 19th century.
Thanks to the intervention of the King Baudouin Foundation’s Heritage Fund, this unique drawing was able to be purchased and entrusted to the Rops Museum in Namur.