Achille Jacques-Jean-Marie Devéria (6 February 1800 – 23 December 1857) was a French painter and lithographer known for his portraits of famous writers and artists.
“Small and innocent games”
His father was a civil employee of the navy. Devéria became a student of Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson and Louis Lafitte (1770–1828).
A libertine watercolor
In 1822, he began exhibiting at the Paris Salon. At some point, he opened an art school together with his brother Eugène, who was also a painter.
By 1830 Devéria had become a successful illustrator and had published many lithographs in the form of notebooks
and albums (e.g., his illustrations to Goethe’s Faust, 1828) and romantic novels. He also produced many engravings of libertine contents.
Devéria’s experience in the art of the vignette and Mezzotint influenced his numerous lithographs, most of which were issued by his father-in-law, Charles-Etienne Motte (1785–1836).
Heloise and Abelard Discovered
Most of his work consisted of “pseudo-historical, pious, sentimental or erotic scenes”.
(Wright) Since he rarely depicted tragic or grave themes, he appears less Romantic than many other artists of the time.
His paintings were mainly done using watercolours.
Lady Jane Gray
The French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire referred to his portrait series as showing “all the morals and aesthetics of the age”.
Honoré de Balzac, c. 1820
Devéria was also known for doing portraits of artists and writers, whom he entertained in his Paris studio on Rue de l’Ouest.
The list of his sitters includes Alexandre Dumas, Prosper Mérimée, Sir Walter Scott, Jacques-Louis David, Alfred de Musset, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Honoré de Balzac, Théodore Géricault, Victor Hugo, Marie Dorval,
Potrait of Rachel
Alphonse de Lamartine, Alfred de Vigny, Jane Stirling, and Franz Liszt.
In 1849 Devéria was appointed director of the Bibliothèque Nationale’s department of engravings and assistant curator of the Louvre’s Egyptian department.
In the following years, he taught drawing and lithography to his son, Théodule Devéria, and both worked on a family portrait album from 1853 until his death. They applied ink wash to several of the portraits in the album, possibly in preparation for printing lithographs from the photographs. The album photographs by Théodule Devéria are dated 1854.
Devéria spent his last days traveling in Egypt, making drawings and transcribing texts. He died in 1857
Works by Devéria are in the Louvre Museum, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Norton Simon Museum, and the Université de Liège collections.
Historically, painting and sculpture were respected mediums; print was not. Prints were easily reproduced, inexpensive, accessible to the masses while painting and sculpture were unique, expensive to produce, and expensive to collect. But as a result, print as a medium offered a great deal of latitude.
Prints were cheap enough to give artists room to experiment. Their ease of reproduction made them ideal for social critique, political propaganda, and documentation, say, of recent events. Prints were ideal for reproduction of other artworks, historical records, purely decorative illustration, illustration of texts, playful visual experiments.
And prints were perfect for pornography. And of all the print mediums, lithography was most suited for reproduction – a single plate could sustain a much longer run than an engraving or an etching.
Devéria was wildly prolific, producing over 3000 works (an historian in 1854 places this figure well over 4000) over the course of his career, and he was best known for his portraits and scenes of everyday life.
It looks as though Devéria targeted several markets, in such a way that explicitly sexual prints didn’t conflict with his scenes of contemporary society. Charles Baudelaire praised his work for reflecting all “the morals and aesthetics of the age.”
Edouard Manet derived his inspiration for Olympia from one of Devéria’s prints of a reclining nude.
Historians went on to praise Devéria’s excellent skill, curators went on to exhibit his work, both took care to avoid his eroticism. Yet his eroticism was everywhere and offers a great deal of insight into the artist – he was unusually ballsy.
In 1830, Devéria contributed to a compendium of erotica called Imagerie Galante. In 1833, he illustrated Gamiani, Two Nights of Excess, an erotic tale of lesbianism by an anonymous author (believed to be by Alfred de Musset and George Sand). He managed to generate controversy with one odalisque, a painting of a loosely clothed woman reclined on a divan smoking a cigarette.
He also illustrated a satanic/erotic piece of explicit literature called Diabolico Foutro-manie (1835), where devils penetrate young maidens with their tails.
In 1838, he illustrated Thousand and One Nights (also known as Arabian Nights), a collection of historical and erotic tales.
He depicted orgies of every conceivable configuration: soldiers in a field, aristocrats in their homes, the middle class stealing off for an impromptu group tryst. Women cuckold their husbands in plain view. In one print, a man uses a candlestick on himself while he enters a woman from behind.
What’s interesting is that – while explicit imagery was illegal, called ‘offenses to good morals’ – it wasn’t aggressively policed. After combing the state archives, Abigail Solomon-Godeau observed what while Devéria’s erotic prints were most certainly illegal, the majority of prosecutions during this period were against prints that criticized the government.
Pornographic imagery seems to thrive during periods of radical transition, some of it playing a dual role of erotic edification and scathing social or political commentary. While some of Devéria’s explicit imagery was political, he avoided critiquing the current government.
But many believe that his explicit visual language paved the way for the Realists (Courbet, Manet), who would bring the candor of lithography to the respected medium of painting, and eventually shatter traditional rules of art.