NEW YORK - What do the two illustrations below have in common?

(left) The cover of Johanna Lindsey's Gentle Rogue. (right) Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's Babylone d’Allemagne (lithograph). Estimate $18,000-22,000.

Both are cover illustrations for pulp fiction. For those romance novel fans out there – my grandmother included – we all know that they are guilty pleasures. Can anyone seriously imagine Fabio gracing the cover of Anna Karenina as Vronsky?

The image on the right, which will be auctioned at Sotheby’s on May 1st, is a trial proof for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster and cover illustration for the novel Babylone d’Allemagne (Babylon in Germany), written by Victor Joze. Joze’s novels capitalized on any popular sentiment, especially political anxiety and sexual curiosity. When combining both, as in Babylone d’Allemagne, Joze was at his worst.  French hatred for Kaiser Wilhelm remained high in 1893 due to French xenophobia, the humiliation of losing the Franco-Prussian War and lingering payment of reparations to Prussia. Babylone d’Allemagne, was a short novel about the sexual depravity of Berliners. Lautrec’s illustration perfectly captures the essence of the novel. 

Lautrec focuses the viewer’s attention on four horses’ hindquarters, which are being closely observed by a caricature of Kaiser Wilhelm. The not-so-subtle message was unmistakable and the German ambassador to France demanded that publication of the novel and poster cease. Lautrec anticipated such a reaction and paid for the publication himself, thereby preventing the Ambassador from halting publication. Lautrec’s publicity stunt worked. According to the records of art dealer Edmond Sagot, prices for Lautrec’s prints and paintings quadrupled.

The print, one of four total trial proofs before lettering and one of only two proofs in private collections, will be offered in our Modern and Contemporary Prints sale on May 1st and 2nd.