Molinier Family Values

Here lies
born on 13 April 1900 died around 1950

he was a man without morals
he was proud of it and gloried in it
No need to pray for him.

So read a mock grave marker made in 1950 by French artist Pierre Molinier. While the pessimistic ETD was out by a quarter of a century, the inscription deftly summarises the worldview of a man whose life, work and compulsions were indivisibly, obsessively focussed on transgressive sex. What’s more his work evolved at a time when fetishism and pornography had very little artistic cachet and were not – as they are now – widely accepted, intermittently modish expressions of sexuality.

Apart from a brief spell in Paris in the 1920s, Molinier spent almost his entire life in Bordeaux. He first exhibited his paintings in 1927 (after serving as an apprentice to his house-painter father), though it was only some 20 years later that his erotic preoccupations came to dominate his canvasses, winning the approval of André Breton.

In the mid-1950s, Molinier started producing the monochrome photographic/photomontage works with which he is most readily associated. He often used himself as a model, usually dressed as a woman, or employed dolls in the manner of Hans Bellmer or Morton Bartlett. He was particularly obsessed with legs in stockings and garters which appear with relentless uniformity in his images, sometimes worked into limb mandalas spiralling forth from a fantasy indistinguishable from nightmare.

For 45 or so years, Molinier lived in the same cramped apartment with mirrored walls and ceilings and his dark, airless photographs reflect both this inward-looking, claustrophobic environment and the intense, narrow parameters of his vision. When Molinier worked with themes like narcissism, fetishism, transvestism, necrophilia, auto-eroticism or incest he was not strictly speaking role-playing; these were compulsions issuing from within rather than identities to be tried on lightly or ironically. As such he’s closer in spirit to a self-portraitist like Claude Cahun than, say, Cindy Sherman. Molinier himself said “you can regard this oeuvre as a biography in which the author, having no gift for writing, expresses himself with those means by which he can express himself.”

Molinier’s difficult personality and compulsion to transgress taboos made family life somewhat strained, though some of his claims may have been exaggerated for shock value. He maintained, for instance, that he had had sex with the corpse of his sister, who died when he was 18, and that he had dug up the bones of his father, who committed suicide in 1944. However it is established fact that he served a prison sentence for assaulting his wife and shooting at a cousin, and that one daughter moved out as the result of unwanted sexual attention from her father while another was set up as a prostitute. Christmas dinner chez Molinier, one imagines, would have been a little tense.

The most commonly posited reason for Molinier’s death is that ill health had rendered him impotent, thus robbing both his life and art of meaning. On this day in 1976, self-scrutinising to the last, he set himself up in front of a mirror and shot himself in the mouth.

No need to pray for him.


  1. algabal

    Mr. Conway,

    I was terrible pleased to see you linked to the video I posted of Butterfly McQueen’s “Nature Fills Our World With Love.” I have additional musical selections by her, which I’d be happy to share at your request.

    It’s really a magnificent blog you have here, and one I’ve been reading for the last few hours! I wonder whether your studies will ever lead you to to LoBagola, a personal hero of mine?



    • Thanks for the comments, Dominic, and thanks also for uploading the video. A truly unique voice.

      I wasn’t aware of LoBagola, but having just looked him up I’d be keen to find out more.


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