The moral debate within fin-de-siècle society centered on concerns about sexual licence.
Contemporary printmakers, by contrast, chose to cultivate eroticism as the perfect theme for modern art and as part of the uninhibited artistic life in Paris.
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The image of Paris as the capital of nocturnal pleasure is reflected in numerous posters. Pierre Bonnard’s France-champagne, for instance, shows an erotic dream image of a champagne-drinking, giggling woman with fly-away curls and a flimsy dress.
At the same time, printmakers produced more intimate erotic prints of naked or scantily dressed women in the privacy of their interior.
Erotically tinged prints were generally intended for male collectors, who viewed them in the privacy of their study.
Consequently, printmakers primarily depicted masculine desires and fantasies.
Women were not thought to experience pleasure from their sexuality, while sex within marriage chiefly served the higher goal of procreation.
Prostitutes were an exception in this regard, but they were seen in turn as sinful, sick and a threat to society.
As far as the world of prints is concerned, the only women who enjoy their sexuality without inhibition are nymphs in the landscapes of Arcadia, exempt from 19th-century morality.
Octave Uzanne (ed.), Féminies: huit chapitres inédits dévoués à la femme, à l'amour, à la beauté, Paris, 1896.
Tamar Garb, Bodies of Modernity. Figure and Flesh in Fin-de-Siècle France, London, 1998.
Richard Thomson, The Troubled Republic. Visual Culture and Social Debate in France, 1889-1900, New Haven, 2004.