From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Félicien Rops (7 July 1833 - 23 August 1898) was a Belgian artist, and printmaker in etching and aquatint. He is best known for his painting Pornokrates and the frontispiece to Les Épaves by Charles Baudelaire.
Rops was born in Namur in 1833, and was educated at the University of Brussels. Rops's forte was drawing more than painting in oils; he first won fame as a caricaturist. He met Charles Baudelaire towards the end of Baudelaire's life in 1864, and Baudelaire left an impression upon him that lasted until the end of his days. Rops created the frontispiece for Baudelaire's Les Épaves, a selection of poems from Les Fleurs du mal that had been censored in France, and which therefore were published in Belgium.
Rops's association with Baudelaire and with the art he represented won his work the admiration of many other writers, including Théophile Gautier, Alfred de Musset, Stéphane Mallarmé, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, and Joséphin Péladan. He was closely associated with the literary movement of Symbolism and Decadence. Like the works of the authors whose poetry he illustrated, his work tends to mingle sex, death, and Satanic images.
Friendship with Baudelaire
In 1864 Charles Baudelaire meets Félicien Rops for the first time in Brussels through the editor Auguste Poulet-Malassis. In a letter written to Edouard Manet, May 11 1865, the poet said: "Rops is the one true artist - what I and perhaps I alone mean by artist - that I have found in Belgium!" Rops for his part said: "I was, I believe, not merely a friend, but the most faithful and respectful companion to Baudelaire, I "lightened his sadness in Belgium", as he describes it in a dedication which is very dear to me....". Baudelaire visited Namur and the family château of Thozée many times.
Selected list of works
- Les Épaves frontispiece (1866)
- Pornokrates (1879), etching and aquatint
- Frontispiece for 'Les Diaboliques' by Barbey d'Aurevilly (1886)
- La Pieuvre/Octopus (1900)
- The Temptation of St. Anthony (1878)
- Les Sataniques (1882) an album of five plates
- Diaboli virtus in lombis
- Droit au travail et Droit au repos, a set of two prints
- Le Diable au salon (couverture illustrée par Félicien Rops). An example of a salon caricatural.
- Mors Syphilitica, (Syphilitic death), engraving
- Cupid riding a winged pig with phallus-shaped nose
Detailed biographical information
- From the 1911 EB, with added corrections
Félicien Rops (1833-1898), Belgian painter, designer and engraver, was born at Namur, in Belgium, on the 7th of July 1833; he spent his childhood in that town, and afterwards. in Brussels, where he composed in 1856, for his friends at the university, the Almanach Crocodilien, his first piece of work. He also brought out two Salons Illustrés, and collaborated on the Crocodile, a magazine produced by the students. The humour shown in his contributions attracted the attention of publishers, who offered him work. He designed, among other things, frontispieces for Auguste Poulet-Malassis, and afterwards for Gay et Doucé. In 1859 he began to contribute to a satirical journal in Brussels called Uylenspiegel, a sort of Charivari. The issue, limited unfortunately to two years, included his finest lithographs. About 1862 he went to Paris and worked at Henri-Alfred Jacquemart's. He subsequently returned to Brussels, where he founded the short-lived International Society of Etchers. In 1865 he brought out his famous "Buveuse d'Absinthe," which placed him in the foremost rank of Belgian engravers; and in 1871 the "Dame au Pantin." After 1874 Rops resided in Paris. His talent, which commanded attention by its novel methods of expression, and had been stimulated by travels. in Hungary, Holland and Norway, whence he brought back characteristic sketches, now took a soaring flight. To say nothing of the six hundred original engravings enumerated in Erastène Ramiro's (whose real name is Eugene Rodrigues) Catalogue of Rops' Engraved Work (Paris, Conquet, 1887), and one hundred and eighty from lithographs (Ramiro's Catalogue of Rops' Lithographs, Paris, Conquet, 1891), besides a large number of oil-paintings in the manner of Courbet, and of pencil or pen-and-ink drawings, he executed several very remarkable water-colour pictures, among which are "Le Scandale, 1876;" Une Attrapade," 1877 (now in the Brussels Museum); a "Tentation de St Antoine," 1878; and "Pornocrates", 1878. Most of these have been engraved and printed in colours by Bertrand. From 1880 to 1890 he devoted himself principally to illustrating books: Les Rimes de joie, by Théodore Hannon; Le Vice suprème, by Joséphin Péladan; and Les Diaboliques, by Barbey d'Aurevilly; L'Amante du Christ, by Rodolphe Darzens; and Zadig, by Voltaire; and the poems of Stéphane Mallarmé have frontispieces due to his fertile and powerful imagination. Before this he had illustrated the Légendes flamandes, by Charles De Coster; Les Jeunes-France, by Théophile Gautier; and brought out a volume of Cent légers croquis sans prétention pour réjouir les honnêtes gens. His last piece of work, an advertisement of an exhibition, was done in November 1896. Rops died on the 23rd of August 1898, at Essonnes, Seine-et-Oise, on the estate he had purchased, where he lived in complete retirement with his family. Scorning display, Rops almost always opposed any exhibition of his works. However, he consented to join the Art Society of the "Les XX," formed at Brussels in 1884, as their revolutionary views were in harmony with the independence of his spirit. After his death, in 1899, the Le Salon de la Libre Esthétique, which in 1894 had succeeded the "XX.," arranged a retrospective exhibition, which included about fifty paintings and drawings by Rops. Rops was a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. He excelled in these three methods of artistic expression; but his engraved work is the most important, both as to mastery of technique and originality of ideas, though in all his talent was exceedingly versatile. Hardly any artist of the 19th century equalled him in the use of the dry-point and soft varnish. By his assured handling and admirable draughtsmanship, as well as the variety of his sometimes wildly fantastic conceptions, he made his place among the great artists of his time. "Giving his figures a character of grace which never lapses into limpness," says his biographer, Erastène Ramiro, "he has analysed and perpetuated the human form in all the elegance and development impressed on it by modern civilization." In 1896 La Plume (Paris) devoted a special number to this artist, fully illustrated, by which the public were made aware how many of his works are unsuitable for display in the drawing-room or boudoir. Edmond Dèman, the publisher at Brussels, brought out a volume in 1897 with the title, Felicien Rops et son oeuvre - papers by various writers. We may also mention a study of Félicien Rops, by Eugène Demolder (Paris, Princebourde, 1894), and another by the same writer in Trois Contemporains ( Edmond Dèman, 1901); Les Ropsiaques, by Pierre Gaume, brought out in London, 1898;1898; and the admirable notice by J. K. Huysmans in his volume called Certains. (0. M.*)