Modern artists, including printmakers, depicted the erotic world of the brothel, which ranged from seedy establishments to opulent palaces.
While preparing his celebrated print series Elles, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec actually spent a considerable time with the girls, who became friends of his.
Encounters on the Street
In addition to brothels, with their government-registered prostitutes, there were ordinary working-class women forced by poverty to sell themselves on the boulevards of Paris.
The large proportion of prostitutes operating in public meant that any well-dressed woman walking on the street alone was potential prey for men on the prowl, as was every passing laundress or milliner girl.
These awkward encounters, frequently between a woman from the lower classes and a wealthy bourgeois, were a rewarding subject for printmakers.
Susan Hollis Clayson, Representations of Prostitution in Early Third Republic France, Ann Arbor 1985
Charles Bernheimer, Figures of Ill Repute. Representing Prostitution in Nineteenth-Century France, Cambridge 1989
Alain Corbin, Women for Hire. Prostitution and Sexuality in France after 1850, Cambridge 1990