The near-forgotten Édouard-Henri Avril (1849 – 1928) was an Algerian-born French painter and illustrator of erotic novels whose contributions to 19th century erotica were as immense as they were explicit. Here we look at the impact of Avril’s work, his ability to blur lines between art and erotica and how his erotic illustrations can be particularly telling of attitudes towards sex during the 19th century.
Born in the Algerian capital of Algiers in 1849, Édouard-Henri Avril was an artist perhaps more familiarly known by his pseudonym Paul Avril, under which he produced his most prominent works as an illustrator of several works of erotic literature. Not a great deal of biographical information exists on Avril, perhaps due to the supposedly salacious nature of his work during the time it was produced, and the fact he worked largely under an alias. What is certain, however, is that he made his way to Paris, France where he nurtured his artistic talents at various salons and spent some time studying at the prestigious art school École des Beaux-Arts.