Musée d'Orsay: Félicien Rops Sentimental Initiation

Félicien Rops
Sentimental Initiation

Sentimental Initiation
Félicien Rops (1833-1898)
Sentimental Initiation
Pencil and watercolour on paper
H. 29,2; W. 18,2 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Michèle Bellot

L'initiation sentimentale [Sentimental Initiation]

Sentimental Initiation is the title of the third volume of Latin Decadence, a vast series of books or a kind of treatise of passions, to which the French writer Joséphin Péladan (1859-1918) devoted his whole life. The central character, Nebo, one of the many incarnations of Péladan, teaches his young pupil, Paule de Riazan, how to recognise pure and ideal love. To do this he condemns bourgeois hypocrisy and the disorder engendered by romantic novels and deranged passions.

During his career, Rops produced many illustrations mainly for books by authors who were part of the French or Belgian avant-garde. For the frontispiece of Sentimental Initiation, he produced this provocative image, which sums up the content of the novel.
The strange, macabre Cupid rising up before the tree of Good and Evil sums up all the evils denounced by the character of Nebo. The confusion between the little god of love and death the huntress, the bare buttocks which in Rops' work evoke hypocrisy and the allusion to female perversion, are all visual transpositions of the text of the novel.
But more than just a simple illustration, Rops' drawing is also a bitter and acerbic criticism of society. He thus reveals himself as a master of the very Symbolist art of suggestion.

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