Missing Mitsou

An image from "Mitsou," by Balthus.

A friend reminded me this morning of one of my favorite treasures, the book Mitsou, by the painter Balthus.

When Count Balthazar Klossowski de Rola, aka Balthus, was 11 he started his first major artwork, a series of 40 pen-and-ink drawings that told the autobiographical story of a small boy who finds a cat, names it Mitsou, brings it home, and, sadly, loses the pet, when the cat runs away. The book’s final image is timeless and heartbreaking, the little boy weeping, with his cat nowhere to be found. His first great sorrow.

Balthus’ mother’s lover, the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke, contacted a publisher about having the young Balthus’ work printed in 1921. “Cats are cats, that’s all there is to it, and their world is the world of cats through and through…” Rilke wrote in the book’s preface. “…True, certain of us feel the influence of their wheedling and electric caress. But they remember, too, the strange and abrupt fits of distraction with which the dear animal abruptly puts an end to such seemingly mutual effusion. Privleged and accepted as they are by cats, they have frequently been rejected and disowned, and, while yet cradling the mysterious apathetic beast to their heart, are brought up short on the threshold of the cat-world, which only cats inhabit, surrounded by circumstances at which we cannot guess.”

The naughty Mitsou.

Mitsou at rest.

"Mitsou" fronticepiece.