Cécile Reims learned burin engraving in Paris at the age of 22 with Joseph Hecht, a demanding master. Between 1950 and 1960, she produced some sixty original works which attracted notice. “It was a very tough discipline”, the artist admits, “an arduous discipline. But once I’d mastered the tool (the burin), I was confronted with the creative gesture.”*
At the very beginning, in 1950, Cécile Reims’s first burins were figurative, with very realistic subjects: the Seine, Spanish fishermen, work and days in the Psalms. Then came the production of “Métaphomorphoses d’Ovide” and “Bestiaire de la mort”.
“We lived in the moutains, I drew rocks, animals. Before, I used to go often to the Jardin des Plantes of the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle. That’s what made it possible for me, starting from totally realistic drawings, to transform them into something that went beyond them. If I hadn’t encountered Ovid’s book, these drawings would have never been born. Since I always need something from the outside to let what I am carrying inside me germinate. I’d just come out of the sanatorium, I engraved these Metamorphoses, and kept going with the Bestiaire de la mort: animals in a mineral world which have been recurrent in my etchings ever since.”* (Interview with Marie Cécile Miessner for the exhibition “Cécile Reims graveur” at the Bibliothèque nationale de France).
Cécile Reims' meeting with Hans Bellmer would be decisive : between 1967 and 1975, she brilliantly interpreted some two hundred of his drawings with burin and drypoint. Today, there is no doubt her work widely contributed to Bellmer’s universal success.
“Bellmer opened for me, in etchings, a path I would never have found alone. It’s obvious he offered me a vocabulary but I never borrowed his, nor Fred’s (Deux) for that matter.” *
In the same way, starting in 1971, Reims engraved many of her husband Fred Dreux’s drawings – about 400 – as well as Leonor Fini’s.
About “interpretative” etchings, in which Reims translates “into an etching” an artist’s drawings, she acknowledges there is “a challenge: how far can I go into becoming the other”… The metaphor is subtle : “Maybe an actor feels the same way when he plays a character that is the opposite of him.” *
Then came the moment when Reims decided to explore new territories : “With ‘La chenille’, engraved in 1986, I allowed myself to engrave simply because I felt like it, to truly become an engraver”, she explains. “I went back, as I used to do, to the Museum of Natural History, but since it was closed for renovation, I went into the library and stumble on a book whose title struck me, a treatise on a caterpillar that eats willow wood.
The illustrations were surprising, and the text, in old French, even more so : ‘Most people speak (…) of illustrious things, and I will speak of a miserable caterpillar.’ I started with elements from this caterpillar, making slight changes, plate after plate, until it was transfigured. For me, this was a decisive gesture, akin to the birth of the Metamorphoses. Starting from an existing reality that someone else had already treated – there was an extra zigzag – I had managed to transcend this miserable caterpillar. (…) This was a truly happy moment.” *
For the past few years, Reims has resumed engraving from her own compositions. “Her quality as an interpreter, first secret, then disclosed, connects her to a splendid tradition, too often forgotten these days, even if there are harbingers of a rehabilitation of this art. But her own talent as an inventor, playing on virtuosity and elegance, also deserves to be saluted.”
(Jean-Noël Jeanneney, President of the Bibliothèque nationale de France)
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2000 Musée de l’hospice Saint-Roch, Issoudun
2004 Bibliothèque nationale de France et Chalcographie du Louvre
2011 Musée de Carcassonne, Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaïsme
2012 Musée Jenisch à Vevey
Among the latest publications :
- Cécile Reims, Livres d’artiste (éditions Alain Margaron, 2014)
- Cécile Reims, catalogue raisonné, texte de Lauren Laz (Musée Jenisch, 2012)
- Cécile Reims, une vie à la pointe du burin, texte de Alexandre Grenier (Alain Margaron Editeur, 2011)
- Cécile Reims graveur (éditions Bnf)