- Felicien Rops
- voyage au pays des vieux dieux
- pencil, pen and ink, pastel, gouache and watercolour on paper laid onto board
- 32 by 22cm., 12½ by 8¾in.
Purchased from the above by the present owner in 2002
Eugène Rouir, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre gravé et lithographié, Brussels, 1987, vol. 3, p. 647
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Rops' reputation today as artist of the perverse derives from his many images of satanic worship and different forms of sexual practice. Rops himself did not consider himself a pornographic artist. When asked by a journalist for permission to include him in a book he was writing on pornography, Rops replied: 'I thank you for your intentions, but if, as you believe, I have ever made some smutty drawings, it is precisely in hatred of this public of which you speak, and in order to lower my buttocks to the level of its face' (quoted in Victor Arwas, Félicien Rops, London, 1972, p. 7). That being misunderstood as a pornographic artist was a concern of Rops is furthermore evident from a response of Edmund Picard to one of his letters: 'Alas, excellent friend, you must resign yourself; to the vulgum pectus, unfit to disentangle your powerful and cruel art, you risk being seen as nothing more than a pornographer' (Edmund Picard, letter to Rops, cited by Camille Lemonnier, Felicien Rops, l'homme et l'artiste, Paris, 1908, p. 168).
While certainly explicit, the present work, by its title and use of satyrs, alludes to a sexual arcadia, free from catholic suppression and any notions of guilt or sin. Similarly to the aptly entitled Rimes de Joie of 1881 (fig. 1), Voyage au pays des vieux dieux celebrates the joy of sexual freedom, rather than seeking to be purely pornographic, and as such can be seen to express a deep longing of Rops who was torn between his religious upbringing and free thinking, trapped in a society for which sex was highly ambiguous and something that was done secretively and certainly not portrayed openly or discussed freely.
A bonviveur himself, four years before his death a sick Rops wrote 'This heart of mine is entitled to be ill. For sixty years it has vibrated at each emotion like an Aeolian harp, and what is killing is that it is not over. The little girl silhouetted on the horizon makes it suffer again, and, like those medieval Christ's whose wounds bled again every time they were kissed by a virgin, the memory of the touch of young kisses brings back to my heart all the powerful beats of blessed nights and the sweet stifling of ancient ecstasies. I shall die of a heart attack and impenitent.' (Letter dated 12 November 1894).
A heliographic copper plate made after this work is in the collection of the Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels.