The Songs of Bilitis or Les Chanson de Bilitis is a collection of erotic lesbian poetry by Pierre Louys published in Paris in 1894. Louys originally claimed that he had translated Ancient Greek poetry in the manner of Sappho but were in fact completely made up and written by Louys himself.
The collection’s introduction says that the poems were found on the walls of a tomb in Cypress written by a woman called Bilitis – a courtesan and contemporary of Sappho. When the book was published it initially hoodwinked Ancient Greek experts. Louys even sketched Bilitis’s life and described how her tomb had been discovered by a fictional German archeological expedition and included a list of additional, “untranslated”, works by her.
George Barbier was one of the great French illustrators of the early part of the 20th century. He was born in Nantes in 1882 but it wasn’t until 29 years later when he mounted his first exhibition in 1911 and was almost an immediate success and was commissioned to design theatre and ballet costumes as well as haute couture fashion illustrations. He illustrated Pierre Louys in 1922.
Claude Debussy, a close friend of Louys created Musique de scène pour les chansons de bilitis (also known as Chansons de bilitis) to be played during the recitation of twelve of Louys’ poems in 1900. Apparently the recitation and music were accompanied by tableaux vivants.
Would you like to support Flashbak?
Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.