This Come from Far Away


Rilke with the painter, Elisabeth Dorothée (Baladine) Klossowska and her son Balthasar (who would become known as the painter Balthus). Picture taken in 1922

 

Baladine Klossowska and her husband Erich Klossowki had first met the poet Rainer Maria Rilke in 1907, the year before Balthus was born. This is who her lover was. When they met he was thirty-two years old, while she was twenty-one. He had been brought to the Klossowskis’ house in Paris by Ellen Key, a Swedish psychologist who had written The Century of the Child, which Rilke had reviewed enthusiastically. Except for an occasion when Baladine and Erich had visited Rilke in his apartment on the Rue Cassette and he had stood at his writing desk and read to them out loud from his Livre d’heures, they had only seen each other once, in a chance meeting when Baladine told the poet that she now had two “ravishing” young sons, until 1919, when Rilke decided to pay a visit to Baladine. Nostalgic for pre-war Paris, he looked up the tall, dark Baladine, whose name was the first in his address book. Having separated from her husband two years earlier, she had moved there to a modest flat. Rilke planned to be in Geneva for five days, but stayed for fifteen.

On one of the rare interludes when they were both staying at Muzot and enjoying a respite from the tumult of their separations, Rainer Maria Rilke and Baladine Klossowska made a journey through the mountains, in the course of which they decided to collaborate on a book in which his poems and her illustrations would appear side by side. Its theme was windows. The slight, elegant volume was not published until 1927, the year after the poet’s death. But with its fifteen poems dedicated to Baladine, and her ten etchings, it preserved the essence of their bond. The women created by Balthus’s mother are all locked in trances. The first. in profile, is framed by window mullions. Fixing her hair, she is completely detached from the ad, as if absorbed in private thoughts.

Another woman rests with her hands on a windowsill, and looks off absently into the distance. She is in a spell, possessed by intense emotions of which we will never know the specifics. In one plate, a nude woman sprawls, seemingly overwhelmed, in a daybed. She is in a sensual paradise, with a vase of flowers at her side and birds visible through the skylight above. Elsewhere women lean and wave, or shutters remain closed keeping the vistas unseen. The subjects are all transfixed. The women could have been uttering precisely what Baladine wrote Rilke during her own windowsill musings:

 

Often I dream in my dreams, and I see myself with

you-far, far away on a long journey. Oh Rene,

Rene, blessings on you! For seeing me before you

when you leave me: as a fountain, as a tree, as a

flower in your star shining above you-for you-1

have kissed Balthus and told him, “This comes from

far away.”

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