Alphonse Inoue: The Meeting Point of Ex-libris Artistry and Western Decadence

Our current article is devoted to Alphonse Inoue, the modern copperplate engraver from Japan. Information on his bio is scarce. It’s known that he was born in 1941 in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, and began his art studies in 1959 at the Musashino Art College (now Musashino Art University). Inoue produced illustrations both for Eastern and Western books and took part in several expositions. The collection of his engravings “Belles Filles” was released in 2003. His dreamy and surreal works, often referring to lesbι̇an

Pictures of lesbι̇ans were also popular in shunga (although they are rare!). The depicted women are usually shown using a special dildo ( harigata ) , composed like a double-sided phallus . Although I have seen..

sensuality, have a subtle correspondence with those of the Argentinian painter Leonor Fini.

Alphonse Inoue lost garden

Fig. 1. Lost garden (

Spirite, T.Gautier

Fig. 2. Spirite, T.Gautier (


Fig. 3. “Aimez, aimez ! ô chères Esseulées, / Puisqu’en ces jours de malheur, vous encore, /
Le glorieux Stigmate vous décore,” Verlaine, “Per amica silentia,” 1867 (

Alphonse Inoue  In the brothel

Fig. 4. In the brothel (

Alphonse Inoue  Sphinx in the cave

Fig. 5. Sphinx in the cave (

Alphonse Inoue  envy

Fig. 6. Envy

Do you need help to make those New Year’s Resolutions stick? Temptation is more than just a devil on your shoulder offering you a slice of cake. And we’re just like everyone else; the past 13 days have felt like an..


Japanese Böcklin

Speaking of Japanese culture and art, we often consider them secluded and self-centered. Hearing the term “Japanese engravings,” we imagine definite things done in a definite way. At the level of the content, the engraving might be a meditative picture of a landscape or an animal

Let’s take a closer look at a fascinating Taisho era (1912-1926) album we obtained recently that features a lot of animals performing cunnilingus. The contents of this accordion-folded album reminisces Kobayashi..

, thus, being close to Japanese haiku. Or it might be a depiction of Japanese mythological plots and heroes or a variation on a traditional eight views set, which became viral in the Japanese culture a long tι̇ɱe ago. Alphonse Inoue is a striking example of the opposite. His pictures are devoted to Verlaine, Coleridge, Gautier. Inoue’s approach to the topics and mood of his works are similar to those of Böcklin, Rops

Félicien Rops (1833-1898) was a Belgian artist working in the genre of symbolism. His depictions of witches, flirting skeletons, and naked Magdalene-like women were praised by his friend Charles Baudelaire,..

, and von Stuck

This remarkable artist who, being born in the family of the miller, received a title of nobility at the age of 43, continues to stay one of the most recognizable symbolist painters in Western art. Stuck achieved..

. The artist exploits widespread western motifs such as Death and The Maiden. Let’s note that traditional depictions of this theme exclude erotic interaction between two figures. Much more often, the artists depicted the maiden as terrified by the presence of death. The sexual tension between the opposing characters appearing in the designs of Inoue is comparable to the famous chiaroscuro woodcut by Niklaus ɱanuel Deutsch I (1517).

Alphonse Inoue  the assumption

Fig. 7. The Assumption (

Alphonse Inoue  artist

Fig. 8. Ex-libris (

Alphonse Inoue  death and the maiden

Fig. 9. Niklaus ɱanuel Deutsch I, Death and the Maiden (

Femme Fatale and Coleridge

Another motif typical for modern art is the femme fatale. Inoue develops it in his engravings of sphynxes and works connected with the unfinished poem “Christabel” written by Coleridge in 1816. The text tells of sir Lioline’s daughter Christabel seduced by the demonic serpent creature Geraldine. Awaken at midnight by a nightmare about her betrothed knight, Christabel goes out of her father’s castle to pray under the oak tree and finds Geraldine disguised as a beautiful maiden. Geraldine tells her that, having been abducted by five men, she is left under this tree until they come back. Christabel leads the victι̇ɱ inside the castle, offering her to share a bed. When the quasi-maiden gets undressed, Christabel sees something horrifying of which Coleridge doesn’t speak straight: …she unbound/ The cincture from beneath her breast: / Her silken robe, and inner vest, / Dropped to her feet, and full in view, / Behold! her bosom and half her side— / A sight to dream of, not to tell! / O shield her! shield sweet Christabel! From further reading, we can conclude that Geraldine is a half-serpent creature as her eyes can transform into those of a snake. Christabel spends that night tightly embraced by Geraldine, which obviously implies a lesbι̇an scene. With lesbι̇an erotica as one of the recurring topics, Inoue couldn’t but illustrate the poem.

Alphonse Inoue erotic

Fig. 10. Christabel and Geraldine (

Alphonse Inoue Christabel

Fig. 11. Christabel and Geraldine (

Alphonse Inoue Geraldine from Coleridge’s poem

Fig. 12. Ex-libris with the mermaid or with Geraldine from Coleridge’s poem (

Alphonse Inoue Engraving based on Coleridge’s poem

Fig. 13. Engraving based on Coleridge’s poem (

Alphonse Inoue Engraving Coleridge’s poem

Fig. 14. Engraving based on Coleridge’s poem (

Alphonse Inoue Christabel art

Fig. 15. Illustration to “Christabel” (

Erotic Ex-libris

The most well-known work of Inoue is the series of ex-libris images that prove the reading is not such a tedious activity. We’ve already looked at sensual ex-libris by Eric Gill

Our current article is devoted to one of the most notorious British artists Eric Gill (1882-1940), a prominent sculptor and printmaker working on religious themes, which contrasted with his real life. The diaries of..

. The set of Inoue differs from Gill’s ornamental paganism with its’ attention to lines and curves of the naked body of the first woɱan in the woods. Inoue depicts surreal female orgies or lonesome beauties literally pleasing themselves with books of various sizes. The images represent the imaginary world to which the reader is transported. They contain references to Coleridge, Verlaine, and Swift placed in the surreal settings with cages, jellyfishes, and dream-like maidens who can be femmes fragiles and femmes fatales at once.

Alphonse Inoue sensual

Fig. 16. Ex-libris (

Alphonse Inoue lesbian

Fig. 17. Ex-libris (

Alphonse Inoue ex libris

Fig. 18. Ex-libris (

Alphonse Inoue ex libris art

Fig. 19. Ex-libris (

Alphonse Inoue artist

Fig. 20. Ex-libris (

Alphonse Inoue decadence


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