“Interpreting a work enables me to escape from my field, where I feel cramped. Paradoxically, what may seem a constriction actually opens up an area of freedom for me.”
Cécile Reims, 2004
Cécile Reims (1927) has been drawing the world that surrounds her since her childhood in Lithuania, and subsequently in Paris, Jerusalem, and Barcelona. As a Jew, she had to go into hiding during World War II, and found herself at death’s door when she contracted tubercu- losis. Recovering from the disease, she felt she had to give meaning to her life as a survivor and she experienced a “conversion to art” as one is converted to a religion. Her encounter with the engraver Joseph Hecht in 1945 introduced her to the burin, an unforgiving tool which became her medium of choice. In her early years as an artist, she produced the mysterious Visages d’Espagne, Métamophoses and Bestiaire de la mort series. But in order to support her work as an artist and to help Fred Deux (1924), whom she married in 1952, she suddenly gave a new twist to her career by turning to the interpretation of others’ work and engraving the drawings made by other artists. Cécile Reims filled this role with good humour and immense talent, as well as secretly collaborating with numerous artists working in the surreal- ist mode, such as Hans Bellmer, from 1966 to 1975, Salvador Dalí, from 1969 to 1988, Fred Deux, from 1970 to 2008, and Leonor Fini, from 1972 to 1995.
In 2004, the Bibiothèque Nationale de France held an important retrospective devoted to Cécile Reims, suddenly putting into the limelight a figure who had long been kept in the shad- ows. At that point it became essential to produce a catalogue raisonné of her engravings. This lavishly illustrated book has been compiled following scientific criteria and includes all of Cécile Reims’s over 1,400 engravings, placing them in the context of the work of the leading artists of the twentieth century and bringing into focus this fascinating period in the history of engraving.
Lauren Laz is an art historian specializing in modern French engravings and a curator in the Cabinet cantonal des estampes of the Musée Jenisch,Vevey.