New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984. First edition thus. Hardcover. First edition thus. 60 pp. Blue printed paper boards, with the dust jacket. Head and tail of spine slightly bumped, else about fine. This edition recreates the original 1921 publication, with the preface by Rilke translated into English, and the French version as an afterword.
Forty drawings by the then-eleven-year-old Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, wordlessly depicting the true tale of a stray cat's journey in and out of his family's life. The drawings are reminiscent of the work of Masereel and Kirchner, whose work the young artist may have seen. The final trauma of the cat's disappearance (the last drawing, following his frantic search for the lost cat, shows Balthus weeping inconsolably) can be seen as an early signifier for much of the work that was to follow over the next eighty years, an elusive and enigmatic sense of loss. The book's publication was arranged by Rilke, who was at the time the lover of Balthus' mother; his preface was the first work he composed entirely in French, and this shift was to inspire the verse in French he wrote for the last six years of his life.
This copy has been warmly inscribed by Balthus on the half-title to "Princesse" and dated 1999, with a charming drawing of a cat at a table, and additionally signed by him on the title-page. Balthus was then almost ninety. Cats were a recurring presence in Balthus' work: a 1935 self-portrait, pictured on the rear cover of the book, was titled "The King of the Cats," and the major Balthus show at the Met in 2013 was titled "Balthus: Cats and Girls." It is remarkable to see a drawing, playful as it is, made only a year or so before the artist's death in 2001, and which harks back over a career of eighty years and is a summation of his lifelong feline obsession. An intimate and affecting copy. Item #1963