French Artist Joseph Kuhn-Régnier: The Eroticism of Merry Modern Pagan Times
02 maart 2022 
64 min. read

French Artist Joseph Kuhn-Régnier: The Eroticism of Merry Modern Pagan Times

Joseph Kuhn-Régnier (1873-1940) was a French draftsman working in the Art Deco style. His pictures may remind you of George Barbier, whose art we examined in one of our previous articles. Nevertheless, Kuhn-Regnier had his distinctive approach manifested in the satirical projecting of antiquity onto modern days. Like Barbier, he contributed to the erotic magazine La Vie Parisienne and produced illustrations for Songs of Bilitis. Besides, he created prints for the edition of Works of Hippocrates published in 1932. The latter seems to be of interest to those who appreciate the enema fetish of Julie Delcourt. Régnier's art remains elegant and esthetically attractive even when the artist illustrates a medical treatise. We've collected 100 images for you to enjoy this alluring talent! Besides illustrations to the treatise, the set includes reinterpretations of famous mythological plots and historical events, depictions of female Olympics, and fantasies on living in a world where centaurs exist! 

Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The Eternal Weather Cock

Fig. 1. The Eternal Weather Cock (La Vie Parisienne, 1913, hprints.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Spring Landscape

Fig. 2. Spring Landscape. The Press Upside Down, 1920, La Vie Parisienne (hprints.com) 

La Vie Parisienne

Born Walfrid Joseph Louis Kuhn, Régnier was a pupil of Fernand Cormon at the Beaux-Arts de Paris. Though Cormon didn't produce prints but mainly paintings, the sensual content of his works (orientalism with its harems and nude females) was close to what Regnier depicted through the prism of antiquity. The major part of the artist's career was connected with La Vie Parisienne (The Parisian Life) magazine, to which he contributed from 1900 to 1938. The history of the magazine counts more than 100 years (1863-1970). Initially, the periodical was devoted to the arts, music, and sports. In 1905, the new editor Charles Saglio provoked the change of the format towards a men's magazine, which boosted its popularity. The feature of La Vie Parisienne was the full-page colored illustrations provided by prominent artists of that time like George Barbier or Gerda Wegener. The masterful Art Deco pictures accompanied by sharp verses and articles were an irresistible argument for the audience to purchase the magazine. In times of World War I, General Pershing warned Americans against buying it due to the risky content, and his recommendation, as you can guess, worked the opposite way. 

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The Rustle of the Forest Phonograph

Fig. 3. The Rustle of the Forest Phonograph, Fantasio, 1913 (hprints.com)

  Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The Marriage of Plistinus

Fig. 4. The Marriage of Plistinus (meisterdrucke.ru)

 Régnier

Fig. 5.  “In search of a new pose (and that’s over 2000 years ago!)”. Top left: “Venus modest… seen too many times!”; top right: “Venus callipyga (“of the beautiful buttocks”)… known too well!”; bottom left: “Venus crouching… too conventional!”; bottom right: “Perfect! Don’t move!”, La Vie Parisienne, 1924 (hprints.com)

  Joseph Kuhn-Régnier art

Fig. 6. “The Caucasian cabaret in times of Herodotus”. First picture: The Trifle at the Doors; second picture: The Show Inside (La Vie Parisienne, 1925, hprints.com) 

Out of Joint

The satirical genre allows both writers and artists to put different elements together. The humor of Régnier's drawings lies in the author's ability to depict a recognizable scene (e. g. a cabaret show) in an unexpected setting, like in the case of his Caucasian Cabaret (fig. 6). A Greek matron gets out of her ancient 'taxi' in front of the Scythian Cabaret. A waiter dressed 'a la Russe' greets the woman. In the second picture, we see the interior of the restaurant with musicians wearing traditional Russian costumes. This set of two images depicts not just an artist's fantasy on the years of Herodotus, but the actual time Régnier lived in. It was published in 1925 when many Russian artists and philosophers moved to France because of the fall of the tsarist regime. There, they earned a living working as waiters and dish-washers or playing in music bands. Thus, the "Caucasian Cabaret" was a common phenomenon of that time as people, who'd lost their country, took their Northern exotic to Paris and other foreign cities. 

 The Drama of Deauville. The Abduction of Beautiful Madam X

Fig. 7. The Drama of Deauville. The Abduction of Beautiful Madam X, Fantasio, 1922 

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Olympian boche. The New Weapon of Mars

Fig. 8. Olympian boche. The New Weapon of Mars, Fantasio, 1916

New Weapon

Another picture that we can describe as amusing and terrifying at once was published in Fantasio magazine in 1916 (fig. 8). It depicts the god of war Mars as "Olympian boche." Mars wears a gas mask and carries a blow-gun. As known, mustard gas was first used by Germans in the battle near Ypres in 1917, but its expanded production for the Greman forces started a year earlier. Curiously, the character of Mars also appears in the picture issued in 1921, but this time he is merely a distant planet flirting with a star (fig. 9). Besides this image, the topic of war can also be seen in fig. 21, 34, 35. 

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Mars wooing a young lady.

Fig. 9. Mars wooing a young lady. “That’s what astronomers’d see through their glass, If Mars were 1 000 meters from us!”, La Vie Parisienne, 1921 (meisterdrucke.ru)

Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Danae 

Fig. 10. Danae, Fantasio, 1916 (hprints.com). “Zeus, the god, who dwells above, Makes this war and then makes love; If you want approach Danae, Nothing doing, you must pay!”, Fantasio, 1916 (hprints.com)  

Danae

Surely, everyone knows about this beautiful story and its depictions by Rembrandt, Titian, Tintoretto, Klimt, et cetera, et cetera. In lots of images, the golden rain is represented in the shape of golden coins, which the greedy servant of Danae tries to pick up. Speculating of heaven love and celestial sensuality, nobody treats the story as an apparent metaphor for prostitution... Nobody except for Régnier! 

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The Wall of Courtesans or the Love Market.

Fig. 11. The Wall of Courtesans or the Love Market. First image: A quiet start of the session. Many sells, few buys. Second image: A lively end of the session. Active trading. A big buyer enters the market (La Vie Parisienne, 1926, hprints.com)

  Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The Dancer from Pompeii,

Fig. 12. The Dancer from Pompeii, Fantasio, 1912 (hprints.com)

  Heracles and Hesperides

Fig. 13. Heracles and Hesperides (agefotostock.com)

 The Roman mosaic depicting Heracles and Hesperides

Fig. 13a. The Roman mosaic depicting Heracles and Hesperides (Wikipedia.org)

The Garden of Hesperides

Another famous myth that receives a sensual interpretation tells about the eleventh labor of Heracles. According to the story, the hero was ordered to steal the golden apples from the garden of Hesperides, the daughters of the titan Atlas. Judging by the image, Régnier probably used the ancient Roman mosaic as a base for the print (fig. 13a). Here we see Heracles wearing the Nemean lion's skin and carrying a club. In both pictures, the tree is guarded by the dragon Ladon. While in the first image, Heracles has to fight the monster, in the image of Régnier, Hesperides calm the dragon. This tale about a snake-like creature guarding a tree with golden fruits could inspire the biblical story of the tree of knowledge and the wise serpent. Régnier seems to join two narratives as females in both cases receive "help" from serpents. One of Atlas' daughters aims to poison the hero as she collects venom while Heracles is flirting with her sister. 

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier La Vie Parisienne

Fig. 14. “The new 50-franc banknote will be changed”, La Vie Parisienne, 1928 (hprints.com) 

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier  Obverse: Minerva

Fig. 15. The 50-francs banknote issued in 1912. Obverse: Minerva surrounded by the four seasons with heads of a builder and a farmer. Reverse: Industry and Agriculture allegories (Wikipedia.org)

In The Middle of Her Favors

Speaking of apples, we can't but mention the titillating project of the 50 francs banknote by Régnier (fig. 14). For the comparison, we also show you 50 francs issued in 1912 (fig. 15). French banknotes often depicted ancient gods, cupids, and allegories of different cultural spheres like economics or industry. In Régnier's version of 50 francs, we see Minerva (Athena), the Roman goddess of wisdom who became a symbol of France in the 18th century. She rests her right hand on a shield with the "Fr" inscription and holds a sword in her left armpit. A cupid sits on the top of the white area for the watermark. The woman holding scales with an apple and little bags is Marianne, another symbol of France connected with the French revolution. The scene with Marianne offering the apple to Minerva refers to the Judgment of Paris (we don't know whether the wordplay "Paris - a Greek hero / Paris - the capital of France" was intended). As known, Paris was supposed to give the apple to one of three goddesses, thus, claiming her as the most beautiful. Régnier's banknote presumably shows that Paris chose Minerva-France over Juno and Venus. On the reverse, we see Fortune surrounded by Bread, Wine, and Richness (or, probably, agriculture and economics). The spread legs of the deity straddling the watermark area evoke in the mind the conversation of Hamlet with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: 

"Hamlet. Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye both?

Rosencrantz. As the indifferent children of the earth.

Guildenstern. Happy, in that we are not over-happy;

On fortune's cap we are not the very button.

Hamlet. Nor the soles of her shoe?

Rosencrantz. Neither, my lord.

Hamlet. Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favors?.." (Act 2. Scene 2)

Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The Judgment of Paris

Fig. 16. The Judgment of Paris (pinterest.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier the judgment of females

Fig. 17. The judgment of females

 Vulcan catches Mars and Venus

Fig. 18. Vulcan catches Mars and Venus 

 Phrynette in front of justice. The irresistible argument,

Fig. 19. Phrynette in front of justice. The irresistible argument, Fantasio, 1922 (hprints.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The male version of Phryne

Fig. 20. The male version of Phryne (diomedia.com)

Phryne as a Man

This scandalous ancient trial of Greek hetaera Phryne, who was a lover and a model for sculptor Praxiteles, hadn't bypassed Régnier's attention. The courtesan, who had many lovers, was accused of impiety, and her defender Hepereides decided to show her perfect body to judges. Her beauty put them in awe so they couldn't condemn "a prophetess and priestess of Aphrodite." In 1922, Régnier depicted a modernized version of this legend with a French courtesan in the court. Besides, he played with this story just as he did with the Judgment of Paris, replacing Phryne with a young man. 

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier French ilustrator

Fig. 21. “Adieu! Greece finally escapes the German pedants”, Fantasio, 1915 (1916?) (hprints.com). At the beginning of the World War, Greece remained neutral. Then there was a disagreement between the King Constantine who sympathized Germany and wanted to keep neutrality and the prime minister Venizelos who supported the Allied Powers. In 1915, Entente forced Greece to yield up the state institutions and join the Alliance, though, finally Greece declared war against Germany in 1916.

 The Vineyards of the lord       

Fig. 22. The Vineyards of the lord, Fantasio, 1924 (hprints.com).

  The Carnival at Pompeii by Joseph Kuhn-Régnier

Fig. 23. The Carnival at Pompeii, La Vie Parisienne (meisterdrucke.ru)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The Carnival at Pompeii

Fig. 24. The Carnival at Pompeii, La Vie Parisienne (meisterdrucke.ru)

 Circe and the companions of Odysseus whom she turned into pigs

Fig. 25. 'Circe and the companions of Odysseus whom she turned into pigs (maryevans.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier A jinx that would make you happy

Fig. 26. A jinx that would make you happy (hprints.com), Fantasio, 1920

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The Spring Flood, Seine is rising

Fig. 27. The Spring Flood, Seine is rising, La Vie Parisienne, 1919 

  Good Day, madam Moon! March 28, the eclipse of the sun visible at noon

Fig. 28. “Good Day, madam Moon! March 28, the eclipse of the sun visible at noon”, Fantasio, 1922 (hprints.com)  

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Margot in front of swine

Fig. 29. “Margot in front of swine” (from the phrase “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine” Matthew 7:6) Régnier plays with word marguerite (“daisy”), Fantasio, 1921 (hprints.com)

 The Beauty Wak’nin’ in the Woods

Fig. 30. The Beauty Wak’nin’ in the Woods, Fantasio, 1920 (hprints.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The Swan Song

Fig. 31. The Swan Song (“the tap song”), Fantasio, 1928 (hprints.com)

Joseph Kuhn-Régnier At the Music Hall. The Rehearsal for Seamstresses

Fig. 32. At the Music Hall. The Rehearsal for Seamstresses, La Vie Parisienne, 1921 (hprints.com)

Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The Greek Wave

Fig. 33. The Greek Wave, Fantasio, 1920 (hprints.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier At the house of Cora

Fig. 34. At the house of Cora (Persephone). Evasive Greece, Fantasio, 1919 (hprints.com). The scene as a whole probably refers to a myth about the rape (abduction) of Persephone by Hades. The Greek goddess who leaves her husband on spring and summer is compared to Greece in World War I because of the governmental schism.    

Modern Olympus. Jupiter’s New Thunderbolt: 75

Fig. 35. Modern Olympus. Jupiter’s New Thunderbolt: 75, Fantasio, 1916 (hprints.com).  

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier That’s not my man! Siren’s destiny’

Fig. 36. “That’s not my man! Siren’s destiny’s the saddest of all: always to enchant bein’ a disenchanted gal!”, Fantasio, 1921

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Holidays in Paris. No man will know!

Fig. 37. Holidays in Paris. No man will know! Fantasio, 1923 (hprints.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier  Multiplication of apple.

Fig. 38. Antique frescos and frolics. A picnic on the bank of Cephissus. First picture: Multiplication of apple. Second picture: But someone’s ruined the party! La Vie Parisienne, 1924 (hprints.com)

  Joseph Kuhn-Régnier In the manner of Ovid. Marginalia of “Metamorphoses

Fig. 39. In the manner of Ovid. Marginalia of “Metamorphoses”. Ancient days: the nymphs of the fountain. Modern days: the fountain of the nymphs. La Vie Parisienne, 1928 (hprints.com)

  Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Bathing Nymphs

Fig. 40. Bathing Nymphs or Unnecessary Precaution. They feared the treachery of Pan, but that’s the wind who had the fun! La Vie Parisienne, 1926 (hprints.com)

 The dramatic return of Helen of Troy

Fig. 41. Two returns from famous travels. First image: The dramatic return of Helen of Troy; second image: The complicated return of prudent Ulysses, La Vie Parisienne, 1928 (hprints.com)

   Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Football in times of Homer

Fig. 42. Football in times of Homer. First image: “Nausicaa: fly-half”; second image: “Ulysses: linesman”, La Vie Parisienne, 1924 (hprints.com) 

Women’s Football in Times of Ulysses

By all means, the Olympic games connected with the cult of Zeus (Jupiter) were a crucial part of the ancient Greek world until their cancel in 393 AD due to the spread of Christianity. This tradition was restored in 1859 under the influence of the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. At the beginning of the XXth century, the theme of sports was on top along with the Greek cult of the healthy and harmonic body (nudist movement), which provoked great interest in the Olympics. The enthusiasm for antiquity coincided with the wave of feminism. In 1900, women, for the first time in history, were allowed to participate in the games. 

Burner of Ships

Many of Régnier's images depict sportswomen in the setting of ancient Greece. The artist also incorporates the sports topic in a mythological narrative about Odysseus (Ulysses), fig. 42. As known, the return of this warrior of the Trojan war to home was a plot of a separate poem by Homer. On his way to Ithaca, Odysseus undergoes many disasters and several shipwrecks. After another one, he spends a night in the forest of the coast of Scheria island. In the morning, he is awakened by the local princess Nausicaa ("burner of ships"), because, while playing with maidservants on the shore, she occasionally throws the ball into the bushes where he sleeps. She brings him food and clothes and offers him shelter at her father's home. Allegedly, Nausicaa herself invented the game they played, the analog of modern handball. Régnier depicts it as football. 

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Hand-ball

Fig. 43. Hand-ball (agefotostock.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Women’s boxing

Fig. 44. Women’s boxing (agefotostock.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Women’s Olympics in times of Phryne

Fig. 45. Women’s Olympics in times of Phryne. First round: head!; second round: tail! La Vie Parisienne, 1924 (hprints.com)

  Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Olympiomania,

Fig. 46. Olympiomania, “-What’s up, my daughter? – I’m practicing the javelin!”, Fantasio, 1920 (hprints.com)

   Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Preparations for the flight

Fig. 47. Preparations for the flight (agefotostock.com)

  Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Preparations for the flight

Fig. 48. The fall (agefotostock.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The flight of Icarette.

Fig. 49. The first flight across the Mediterranean sea. The flight of Icarette. First image: During the flight. Second image: The Landing, La Vie Parisienne, 1928 (hprints.com)

The Story of Icarus With a Happy Ending

The flight of the first female aviator Amalia Earhart across the Atlantic Ocean (1928) was an event that Régnier couldn’t ignore. The artist devoted two of his designs to Amalia’s triumph (fig. 49). In his images, beautiful Greek Icarette performs a "trans-Mediterranean" flight and amazes the sea creatures. Unlike Icarus, she lands successfully and receives congrats from her companions. 

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The sports season as seen from Olympus

Fig. 50. The sports season as seen from Olympus. First image: M-lle Aurora. The winner of the harness race. Second image: Amphitrite (the wife of Neptune). The winner of the horse-drawn canoe race, La Vie Parisienne, 1928 (hprints.com)

  Joseph Kuhn-Régnier New baths in Deauville

Fig. 51. Just like in Pompeii. New baths in Deauville. First image: At the exedra we gossip. The same is at the swimming pool, La Vie Parisienne, 1929 (hprints.com) 

Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Bathing women 

Fig. 52. Bathing women

 Bathing Women Joseph Kuhn-Régnier

Fig. 53. Bathing women (agefotostock.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Bathing Girls

Fig. 54. Bathing women (agefotostock.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The season on the waters in times of Aspasia

Fig. 55. The season on the waters in times of Aspasia. First image: At the source; Second image: At the swimming pool, La Vie Parisienne, 1923 (hprints.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Aspasia

Fig. 56. Aspasia, Fantasio, 1912 (hprints.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Lais

Fig. 57. Lais, Fantasio, 1929 (hprints.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The procession of bacchants

Fig. 58. The procession of bacchants (agefotostock.com)

  Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The procession of winegrowers with a naked girl lying in the cart full of grapes

Fig. 59. The procession of winegrowers with a naked girl lying in the cart full of grapes (agefotostock.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier The orgy of bacchants

Fig. 60.  The orgy of bacchants (agefotostock.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Drinkers being expelled from a tavern

Fig. 61. Drinkers being expelled from a tavern (agefotostock.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Symposion

Fig. 62. Symposion (agefotostock.com)

 The lovers Joseph Kuhn-Régnier

Fig. 63. The lovers (proantic.com)

 Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Greeks

Fig. 64. “A merry night of the old times where we see that, though, Greeks didn’t practice our way of counting years, their way to waste the days didn’t really differ from ours”, La Vie Parisienne, 1927 (hprints.com)

  Joseph Kuhn-Régnier Celebrating the victory 

Fig. 65. Celebrating the victory (livejournal.com)

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Click HERE for the audacious lesbian erotica of the Art Deco artist Gerda Wegener...!!

Sources: Wikipedia.org; maryevans.com; meisterdrucke.uk; agefotostock.com; hprints.com

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About the author
Darya is a philologist who lives and works in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She is specialized in Russian literature.
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