The Belgian artist Rachel Menchior is still best known for a large series of erotic drawings she made while she was still in her twenties, though she has continued to paint and produce book illustrations ever since. She grew up in the small town of Lantremange, north-east of Liège, and an early interest in drawing and illustration led her to enrol at the Académie Royale des Beaux-arts (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) in Liège, where as well as studying art she attended the workshop of master engraver Georges Comhaire.
Menchior’s drawings are both simple and, for their time, explicitly powerful in their simplicity. Adopting the architect Mies van der Rohe’s 1947 minimalist dictum of ‘less is more’, she experimented with clean lines, well-chosen decoration and single-colour backgrounds to produce erotic snapshots exploring elements of nakedness that critics of the time described as ‘more naked than naked’.
As the poet and essayist Jacques Izoard (1936–2008) described the artist’s early work, ‘Her women – and occasionally her men – have such a presence that they immediately cause a brief thrill. Rachel Menchior has the art of immediately grasping the essence of nakedness. Sometimes, perhaps even often, her women do not look in front of them, and therefore ignore the voyeur. Are they distracted, or do they prefer not to impose themselves? We don’t really know. What could be too intense about their presence is ameliorated by a kind of abandonment or negligence. They don’t care whether we look at them.’
After a period of concentrating on erotic subjects, Rachel Menchior continued to draw, exhibiting her work regularly in group exhibitions, mostly in Liège. ‘After eroticism, I threw myself into black humour: it frees me! For example I created a series about snails with my old friend François Jacquemin. Why the snail? Because they are hermaphrodites. If we all were, maybe we would understand each other better. There would be fewer wars!’