Mimes des courtisanes de Lucien

Year: 1935

Author: Lucianus Samosatenus (0120 - 0180)

Artist: Edgar Degas (1834 - 1917)

Publisher: Ambroise Vollard, éditeur

Mimes des courtisanes de Lucien, cover

Hellenism was flourishing at the end of the nineteenth century; Greek authors and their works were especially fashionable in France. French author Pierre Louÿs loved books, Greek writers and love. In 1892, during his stay at the hotel Phantaisie in Bayreuth (Germany), he began work on his translation of the Dialogues of courtesans by Lucianus, who wrote in Greek. They were fifteen short, erotically tinged morality sketches in dialogue form that were published by Louÿs in 1894 as Mimes des courtisanes de Lucien.

Edgar Degas

For this unusual edition of Mimes des courtisanes de Lucien from 1935, illustrations were used by the French impressionist painter/engraver Edgar Degas. As the son of a banker's family, Degas at first had no need to make a living from his artwork. Because of poor banking results, the Degas family was to fall upon harder times before long. Degas was known as a cantankerous person. There is also something cantankerous about later paintings and monotypes, due to his unconventional compositions and techniques. Degas was gradually losing his sight. His drawings grew vaguer and acquired a mysterious, sometimes humorous character. After the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886 he was still widely held in high esteem, but he retreated from the Paris art world more and more. In this period, he created many monotypes of nude women working on their appearance: bathing, drying, combing their hair. He also produced many illustrations of the so-called 'maisons clos' (brothels) in this period.

Ambroise Vollard

Art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard wanted to use the illustrations by Degas that featured those themes to illustrate Louÿs' Mimes des courtisanes de Lucien. A number of illustrations came from a folder of monotypes called Scènes de maisons closes. It soon proved to be difficult to sustain the exact character of Degas' monotypes in copper print. The assistance of Maurice Potin was enlisted, who finally succeeded in creating successful reproductions after six years of precision work.

Vollard came to Paris from La Réunion, a French island off the eastern shore of Africa, initially with the intention to study law. He chose to sign up for medical school, but before long, he began obsessively collecting drawings and engravings. He often purchased the drawings from the artists themselves, for a low price and in large numbers. This would later allow him to make substantial profits. He achieved great success and celebrity by organising Cézanne's solo exhibition in 1895. Exhibitions of the work of a single artist were exceptional at the time. In 1900, he started to publish 'livres d'artiste', which made him one of the founding fathers of the artists' book.


  • Gouache in colour by Edgar Degas

Bibliographical description

Description: Mimes des courtisanes de Lucien / [trad. du grec par] Pierre Louÿs ; ill. d'Edgar Degas. – Paris : Ambroise Vollard, éditeur, 1935. - ix, 83 p., iv bl. pl. : ill. ; 34 cm + 22 gravures

Printer: Aimé Jourde (Parijs) (typography) Maurice Potin (engravings)

Edition: 325 copies

This copy: Number 282 of 305 on Rives

Typeface: Garamond

Bookbinder: Rolando Biondi (Koninklijke Bibliotheek)

Note: With prospectus

Bibliography: Bénézit 4-344 ; Carteret 4-253 ; Monod 7422

Shelfmark: KW Koopman K 321


  • Jean Adhémar & Françoise Cachin, Edgar Degas: Gravures et monotypes. Paris, Arts et métiers graphiques, 1973
  • François Chapon, 'Ambroise Vollard Éditeur', in: Gazette des beaux-arts, 122 (1980) 1, p. 25-38
  • Robert Gordon, Andrew Forge, Degas. London, Thames and Hudson, 1988
  • Jean-Paul Goujon, Pierre Louÿs: Une vie secrète (1870-1925). Paris, Fayard, 2002
  • Una E. Johnson, Ambroise Vollard, éditeur: Prints, books, bronzes. New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1977
  • Roy McMullen, Degas: His life, times, and work.London, Secker and Warburg, 1985
  • Richard Thomson, Degas: The nudes. London, Thames and Hudson, 1988
  • Ambroise Vollard, Degas (1834-1917). Paris, Artistes d'hier et d'aujourd'hui, 1924