Monsieur de Bougrelon

Year: 1927

Author: Jean Lorrain (1885 - 1906)

Artist: Adrien Étienne Drian (1885 - 1961)

Publisher: Les Éditions d'Art Devambez

Monsieur de Bougrelon, cover

The fin de siècle period in Paris is marked by scandals and remarkable events: the Panama scandal, the Ravachol case, Dreyfus, the fire in the Bazar de la Charité, the world exhibition of 1900. This is also the Paris in which the Norman Paul Duval lived for more than twenty years. He became known in literary circles as Jean Lorrain. This illustrious figure, a 'dandy de la perversité' with a taste for sailors and dockworkers, never had his fill of creating scandals. He felt equally at home in unsavoury bars and in the salons, between debauchees, addicts, devil worshippers and spiritualists, and fashion enthusiasts. He wrote scandalous articles in several periodicals about his adventures, repeating these chronicles later in his narrative prose. His style was influenced by idols such as Barbey d'Aurevilly, Huysmans and the Goncourts and their 'style artiste'.

In 1892, Lorrain travelled to Algeria and Tunisia via Spain. In that year, he also opted for a northbound route that took him to London and then onward to Amsterdam. Five years later, he used these experiences for his novel Monsieur de Bougrelon. This novel starts with an evocation of the water that seemed omnipresent in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam, 'the Venice of the north': 'it is all water, and houses painted in black and white, full of windows, with sculpted pointed rooftops and lace curtains: black and white, reflected in the water.' He celebrates the northern peoples in a minor key: 'Dutch men, by the way, are rather ugly, and Dutch women resemble them.'


Lorrain begins his story in stormy Amsterdam with a clever French opening: two gentlemen stroll through Amsterdam, ignoring the museums and other sights, for they know the city well. They are intrigued by the name of the Café Manchester, and therefore find themselves inside a brothel by page 4. The ladies there are ugly and sweet, and the ‘peaceful and homely Dutch interiors' are colourful: the ladies drink gin and beer at a fast rate. But that, of course, isn't what it's about. The book is about Mr. Bougrelon, who enters the café and who is described to the readeras 'that constricted, made-up corpse with its bow tie.' He offers his services as a guide to both Frenchmen. Bougrelon turns out to have followed a friend of his to The Hague (the friend was forced to flee the country because of a duel). Bougrelon later stayed in Amsterdam.

After the first chapter, Amsterdam soon disappears into the background. It provides the setting for walks that actually take place in the imagination: Bougrelon tells of his memories of female conquests, aristocratic pleasures and friendships. He walks quickly past the masterpieces in the Rijksmuseum in order to descend into the basements with their costume rooms, which he compares to sarcophagi: 'those ghosts have left behind their shrouds of velvet and silk', he says, but inside them are hidden 'kisses, madness, love and tears.' He escorts the gentlemen to a sailor's tavern for a lunch of fresh haddock: it is located in the cabin of a freight ship behind Central Station. There he tells the story of the chaste Barbara, who was murdered by her servant, or more precisely: she was eaten by him. He is reminded of her pupils by the eyes of a poodle he sees in Monnickendam. 'Imaginary pleasure', that is what it's all about: 'Hypothétique luxure'. Museum Fodor is visited briefly, and the Zeedijk is mentioned in passing, as are Zaandam and Haarlem, but the tale soon returns to the memories of Bougrelon, in whose imagination fur cloaks and preserving jars are transformed into works of art. He disappears around a shady corner, as suddenly as he had appeared, but the gentlemen see him once more in a sailor's tavern, on the stage, with a violin under his chin.

Illustrated editions

Monsieur de Bougrelon appeared in 1897, at the end of Lorrain's life, and although it did bring him some degree of fame, there was something ambiguous about his position as journalist with artistic ambitions. He would never hesitate to use texts (even those of others) more than once. His novels were collages of articles and chronicles that had appeared previously. After his death, the Bougrelon story was published a few times in illustrated editions. In 1928, A. Brodovitch illustrated the text with fascinating wood engravings that were influenced by Cubism. A year before, Éditions d'art Devambez published a hefty edition with 16 colour etchings by Adrien Étienne Drian in an edition of 407 copies. For the same publisher, Drian also illustrated La canne de jaspe by Henry de Régnier (1924). Devambez was a renowned publisher, whose books were distributed by another publisher (Georges Crès) from 1923 onwards. The economic depression caused the market for illustrated editions to collapse, but André Devambez then opened a gallery of his own, where deluxe editions were presented for a short time. He was a painter of genre paintings himself.

Drian painted portraits and worked for the theatre and for magazines, such as La gazette du bon ton and Femina. The colour etchings for this book only rarely display his specialty (female figures): there is one illustration in which famous paintings of women are portrayed. As in most editions of Monsieur de Bougrelon, Amsterdam plays only a minor role in the illustrations, although it is more prominent in this work: there are city scenes with canals and stepped gables;there are of course windmills, and even armorial bearings. The colourfully dressed figures in the book also catch the eye: Bougrelon, Barbara's monkey; the dolled-up poodle; and the noble deer hunters, sewn into their costumes, depicted as centaurs.

Monsieur de Bougrelon, colophon

Bibliographical description

Beschrijving: Monsieur de Bougrelon / Jean Lorrain ; ill. de 16 eaux-fortes orig. en coul. grav. par Drian. - Paris : Les Éditions d'Art Devambez, 1927. - [142] p. : ill. ; 28 cm

Printer: R. Coulouma (Argenteuil) La Roseraie (Parijs)

1st edition: 1897

Edition: 407 copies

This copy: Number 161 of 250 on Arches

Bookbinder: Schrijen (Sittard)

Bibliography: Bénézit 4-735 ; Carteret IV-244 ; In liefde verzameld 105 ; Mahé II-701 ; Prout II-27-03

Shelfmark: Koopm A 112


  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voices and visions. The Koopman Collection and the Art of the French Book. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voix et visions. La Collection Koopman et l'Art du Livre français. La Haye, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Bibliothèque nationale des Pays-Bas; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Philippe Jullian, Jean Lorrain ou Le Satiricon 1900.Paris, Fayard, 1974
  • Jean Lorrain, Monsieur de Phocas suivi de Monsieur de Bougrelon. Paris, Union Générale d’Éditions, 1974
  • Georges Normandy, Jean Lorrain intime.Paris, Michel, 1928
  • Phillip Winn, Sexualités décadentes chez Jean Lorrain. Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1997