In August of 1883, Anthony Comstock arrested a clerk, August Muller, at the bookstore of Edmund F. Bonaventure, for selling “indecent” photographs of works of art exhibited in the annual Paris Salon.
Muller told a reporter, “When Mr. Comstock’s agent came here… he asked me for pictures that were ‘free.’ I told him we had none such, and that all we had were copies of works of art. After pressing me again and again for such nasty stuff, he bought a few pictures and went away. Four days afterward I was arrested by Anthony Comstock, who came into the shop and turned my stock of pictures upside down.”
L’Etoile (The Star)
“The one he deemed the worst was ‘L’Etoile’ by [Léon-François] Comerre, one of those in the last Salon, published by Block & Co. Another was ‘Le Repos dans l’Almée,’ by the same publisher. There were about 800 photographs seized… not a single one that can be called obscene.”
Le repos de l’almée (The Almeh’s Rest)
Comstock testified, “I have received repeated complaints from respectable persons, whose names I cannot disclose, about this shop… I think the law sustains me when I arrest a man for exposing in a public street pictures of nude women… I consider them dangerous to the morals of young people who pass by, and should feel as much justified in attacking them as if they were wild beasts on the street.”
In December, the trial concluded with a guilty verdict, but the sentence was suspended.
Note: The almeh were a class of courtesans in Egypt, educated to sing, recite poetry and discourse wittily. Transliterated into French as almée, the term came to be synonymous with “belly dancer” in the European Orientalism of the 19th Century. As for why Comstock found “L’Etoile” to be the worst of the lot, I invite you to look at the picture from Comstock’s viewpoint and frame of mind.