Erotic photography was accepted in France as study material for painters and sculptors, and this turned out to be a good cover for selling nude pictures. At the beginning of the 20th century, several erotic publications with nude photographs emerged. Their ostensible goal was to inspire artists, but the publishers had another audience in mind.
Le Nu Esthétique was the first publication, and its first issue was published in October 1903. It was initiated by the art historian Émile Bayard (1868–1937) and would appear until 1907. It was a great success and inspired others to publish similar publications. The cartoonist Amédée Vignola (1862–1939) published many new titles between 1904 and 1906, such as L’Étude Académique, Le Document Photographique and Mes Modèles. The publications were cheap and every issue included an introduction to artistic nudity, to keep up appearances and emphasise the artful nature of the publication. Some publications, such as Le Stéréo-Nu, Les Beautés du Nu au Stéréoscope and, Le Déshabillé au Stéréoscope, contained a collection of paper card stereoviews that could be cut out for viewing with a stereoscope.
The erotic publications were packed in sealed envelopes to make sure they could not accidentally fall into the wrong hands and cause public unrest. Before the First World War, 20 different titles and nearly 800 issues appeared. A detractor of the publications estimated that 1,268,000 copies circulated in 19081. It seems clear that the buyers and subscribers were not all sculptors or painters. The First World War brought an end to the publications, and they were not revived after the war.