[ Van Dongen, Kees ] Baudelaire, Charles. Les Fleurs du Mal. Paris-Bievres: [ Pierre de Tartas. ] 1947.
This group of largely erotic poems not only solidified Baudelaire’s reputation as a dissolute sensualist but added to his infamy criminal prosecutions for blasphemy and obscenity. Six of the poems were banned in France and the ban remained in place until 1949. His dedication of the book to the revered French poet Theophile Gautier as “maitre et ami” and “poete impeccable” seems to have had little pacifying effect on the public’s or the authorities’ perception of the book. For generations after Baudelaire’s death in 1867, at age forty-six, Les Fleurs du Mal represented depravity, morbidity, and obscenity.
Which doubtless explains its popularity. Elegant illustrated editions of it have been published throughout the twentieth century beginning in 1920 by Éditions René Kieffer which was illustrated by André Domin, two separate editions in 1923 illustrated by Almery Lobel and by Odilon Redon, an edition in 1947 published by La Bibliotèque Française which was illustrated by Henri Matisse, and an edition in 1966 illustrated by Georges Rouault.
This edition, published in 1946, has been illustrated by Kees van Dongen and it captures evocatively the eroticism of Baudelaire’s poetry. Van Dongen’s illustrations portray the sensual allure of the Black Venus, inspired by Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s mixed race mistress for many years. It contains an introduction by Jean-Paul Sartre who suggests that Baudelaire in his work appears to accept without rebellion a morality that condemns what he has chosen to portray as ordinary human desire.
Out of a total edition of 270, this copy is one of fifty on Vélin d’Arches. The engravings and etchings were printed at Atelier Crommelynk. The book is loose as issued in a paper wrapper of heavyweight grey textured paper and housed in a clamshell box covered in maroon-colored cloth. Also in the box is an additional suite of the hors texte prints housed in a paper folder.
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