Felicien Rops is to decadence what Monet is to impressionism. His graphic works are some of the most depraved and excessive examples of decadence in art. There has always been a confusing overlap between the symbolists and decadents of the 1890s. The differentiation is easier when applied to literature: Huysmans is firmly decadent; Mallarme purely symbolist. But in the visual arts, the distinction is challenging and art history does not recognize a "decadent movement"; everything is usually subsumed under symbolism. Classifying the art of Rops as symbolist would be correct, but insufficient. He belongs more appropriately with the morbidly decadent worlds of Beardsley and Kubin. His works are extremely gruesome, perverted, misogynistic, pornographic, and truly modern. Rops is uniformly decadent, the bad boy of French symbolism. Even today, his art is shocking and transgressive. Consider "Les Sataniques" (series of satanic imagery and pornographic blasphemy), "St. Theresa" (a nun experiencing ecstasy through a dildo), or "Agony" (an angelic skeleton performing cunnilingus).
This is a small book (8.5 x 5 in.) that captures the life and times of Rops in an economical fashion. Even at 94 pages, there is very little text and it can be read in two hours. However, Patrick Bade is one of those rare writers who makes art interesting and fun to read. Bade's narrative is direct, entertaining, and highly evocative. He really sets the mood of the period with quotes by Peladan, Baudelaire, and Huysmans, details about other Parisian artists, the prevalence of prostitution, and fears of syphilis. Bade knows how to keep us reading with lurid anecdotes about Paris and Rops' own life. One of the more memorable nuggets is that Rops had a lasting ménage a trois with two teenage girls, who merged their names (Aurelie and Leonine) together as "Aureleon" when writing to him; evidently, Rops lived like the anti-hero from a decadent novel.
What puzzles me about the selection of reproductions is their disconnection from the text. Only two or three of them are discussed or referred to. I understand the images are there to establish context, and they achieve it, but some analysis would not have gone amiss. Conversely and bewilderingly, almost all of Rops' works discussed in the text are *not* reproduced in the book. That means you'll need to consult another source or search online to see the art Bade is talking about. This is not a terrible drawback for me, as searching Google Images will yield all of the art, but it may bother other readers.
Bottom line: This is not a thorough biography of Rops or extensive criticism of his works, but these are not the aims of this "Reveries" series, which is mainly concerned with eroticism and women in art. Bade provides a satisfying glimpse into these aspects of Rops's art and the cultural world he lived in. The art reproductions are small, but plentiful (54 images), and from a graphic design standpoint, the book is beautifully printed.