»Paris Is My Library«

Drawings and Prints by Félicien Rops

Naked female bodies depicted in provocatively explicit scenes, shocking Satanic rituals, fantastic-opulent sceneries: hardly another artist of the second half of the 19th century had gained such a notorious reputation and influence with his repertoire of motifs as Félicien Rops (1833–1898). Underneath his superficially frivolous and obscene depictions, however, lie sharp wit, religious and social criticism, and political satire. Since 1907, the Kupferstichkabinett (Department of Prints and Drawings) at the Hamburger Kunsthalle has housed one of Germany’s most comprehensive collections of works by the Belgian symbolist, acquired in 1907 from the collection of the Hamburg lawyer and art collector Johannes Mohrmann (1812–1906). Yet, despite its scale and importance, the Hamburg Rops collection, consisting of more than 250 works, is virtually unknown to this day and has never been exhibited. 

Born in Namur, Belgium, Félicien Rops is probably the most important and influential etcher of the second half of the 19th century. Active mainly in Brussels and Paris, his widely circulated prints – always known for scandal – had influenced several generations of artists until after 1900, including Max Klinger, Alfred Kubin, Jeanne Mammen and Otto Dix. In his younger years Rops created satirical lithographs, but from 1860 at the latest, when he began living and working in Paris regularly, he devoted most of his work to this city, to its diverse population, its debauchery and abysses. Critically eyed by the French and Belgian bourgeoisie with its double standards, his loose lifestyle along with his close contacts to the literary world of bohemian Paris – he became friends with Charles Baudelaire, among others – made him just as famous as he was infamous. Rops was particularly successful as a sought-after illustrator or designer of significant frontispieces and title pages of Symbolist literature. His etchings were often viewed as pornography, which further consolidated the artist’s eccentric reputation in Europe – bringing Rops considerable attention, but also a great deal of resistance. 

The exhibition »Paris Is My Library«. Drawings and Prints by Félicien Rops, scheduled from February to May 2023 in the Harzen-Kabinett of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, will for the first time present up to one hundred sheets from the extensive collection of prints and drawings by the artist. Here, the focus is not only on the sexually explicit depictions for which Rops was notoriously known throughout Europe already during his lifetime, but will also include his political-critical and satirical drawings and prints works related to Symbolist literature and works depicting his native Flanders. A comprehensive look at his work, as permitted by the Kunsthalle’s holdings, can exclude neither of these. This also allows us to shed a light on the gender roles, social relations and moral ambivalences of his time and society, to critically reflect on the subject matter that Rops had repeatedly and extensively worked on throughout his artistic career.

Please note: The exhibition contains a lot of nudity and sexually explicit scenes as well as someracist stereotypes and depictions of sexual abuse.

Visits by minors are at the discretion of their parents.

Supported by: Tavolozza Foundation

»PARIS IS MY LIBRARY« Drawings and Prints by Félicien Rops

Chapters of the exhibition