Franz Von Bayros: One of the Greatest Portraitists of Human Decadence

Years ago, when I started to examine the history of erotic art (first in books and later on the net) in search for the most important artists and styles of this genre, there was one name that kept coming up. That name was Franz Von Bayros (1866-1924). An Austrian-Croatian artist and illustrator, and one of the best known representatives of the Decadent Movement*, who excelled in erotic themes.

Fig.1. B&W photograph of Franz von Bayros (1898)

Aristocratic Roots

Bayros was born in Zagreb, but raised and educated in Vienna. Although his father had Spanish aristocratic roots, he just worked at the Austrian railroad company. Bayros first studied art at the Academy of Vienna, then the Special School of Adolf Hölzel in Dachau and finally at the Heinrich Knirrs School in Munich (who also trained Paul Klee). Later he would write about the latter,’I would have to write at the beginning of my biography that I was born at Heinrich Knirr’s Art Academy in Munich in my thirty-first year.’

Fig.2. ‘Sin titulo‘, 1912


He was fascinated by the French rococo art and studied it extensively. Other strong graphic influences were Aubrey Beardsley and Félicien Rops, two other great erotomaniacs. His illustrations of the classics of erotic literature like ‘The Memoirs of Fanny Hill‘ (1906), ‘Arabian Nights‘ (1906), ‘Pentamerone‘ (1909) and ‘Decamerone‘ (1911) are characterized by talent for composition, subtle play with ornament and a lust for the splendid nature.

Most Provocative Work

In 1911 he created his most notorious and provocative work, an erotic portfolio titled ‘Erzahlungen vom Toilettentisch (Tales from the Dressing Table)‘. The illustrations in this portfolio caused such controversy, that he was later arrested and exiled from Germany, after which he returned to Vienna.

Fig.3. ‘Sin titulo (Ton Biblon tes Oidipodeias)‘, 1912

Marquis de Bayros

Because of these events and the provocative nature of his work (SM, lesbianism, zoophilia and nude prepubescent girls motifs are recurring themes in Bayros’ work), he was also called ‘Marquis de Bayros’. An amusing reference to the scandalous erotic writer Marquis de Sade. Few at the time acknowledged his brilliance for drawing the most provocative scenes with captivating elegance and his sense for design, which make him one of the 20th century’s most infamous but masterful erotic artists.

Fig.4. ‘Vielle porcelaine‘ (1912)

Curious Animals

Bayros’ illustrations involve intimate, often skinny females on their own, experimenting with other females, or accompanied by an animal. He also pays a lot of attention to the head of hair and the striking hats on it. The humor can be found in the inclusion of phallus-shaped ornaments and/or the curious animals.

Fig.5. ‘Retro Sensualità

Johan Strauss II

During much of his adult life he stayed in the higher circles, and was even married (for a year 1896-97) to the stepdaughter of Johann Strauss II**. Later in his career, when he was often hit by depressions due to fewer commissions, he got one last big assignment. This concerned a visual adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s ‘The Divine Comedy‘, and yielded his last masterpiece. In 1924, he died from a cerebral hemorrhage in Vienna.

Fig.6. ‘Tales from the Dressing Table‘ (1911)

Still Evident

Bayros’ art is still evident today. His artwork heavily influenced the subversive graphic novel ‘Lost Girls‘ (1991-92) of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie, and was also used for the sleeve of ‘She‘ (1999), an album by the band Maldoror, a project by Mike Patton (Faith No More) and Masami Akita.

Fig.7. ‘Jupiter and Europa‘ (1911)


With today’s eyes, it’s hard to imagine that his work was reviled by critics, as his risqué illustrations are more suggestive than explicit. They are playful, even delicate (look for the nude teenage girl sitting in a crib while a young deer licks her pubic area- Fig.15) and the eroticism is subtle.

Easily Shocked

The agitation is mainly due to the conservative, devout and cautious Victorian community of the time who was easily shocked, and the provocative book titles Bayros illustrated. Either way, all this excitement has greatly contributed to his fame.


Fig.9. ‘Untitled 

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Fig.22. ‘Birds

Fig.23. ‘Shunga and Sade

Click HERE for an article on Von Bayros’ important influence Aubrey Beardsley and his fascination for shunga…!!

Sources: Jardin de eros

*The Decadent Movement was a group of artists interested in depicting human indulgence.
**Johann Strauss II was the son of the famous Austrian Romantic composer

Who do you think is the most provocative artist in history? Leave your reaction in the comment box below…!!