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Letters to a Young Painter

Part of ekphrasis
Contributions by Rachel Corbett / Translated by Damion Searls

Never before translated into English, Rainer Maria Rilke’s fascinating Letters to a Young Painter, written toward the end of his life between 1920 and 1926, is a surprising companion to his infamous Letters to a Young Poet, earlier correspondence from 1902 to 1908. While the latter has become a global phenomenon, with millions of copies sold in many different languages, the present volume has been largely overlooked.

In these eight intimate letters written to a teenage Balthus—who would go on to become one of the leading artists of his generation—Rilke describes the challenges he faced, while opening the door for the young painter to take himself and his work seriously. Rilke’s constant warmth, his ability to sense in advance his correspondent’s difficulties and propose solutions to them, and his sensitivity as a person and an artist come across in these charming and honest letters.

Writing during his aged years, this volume paints a picture of the venerable poet as he faced his mortality, through the perspective of hindsight, and continued to embrace his openness towards other creative individuals. With an introduction by Rachel Corbett, author of You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin (2016), this book is a must-have for Rilke’s admirers, young and old, and all aspiring artists.

“Written over the years and telling Balthus some of what Rilke learned from Rodin, the letters restate why a life in the arts matters–and why all artists must have tenacity, courage, and belief in themselves.”

– Lilly Wei, Art in America

In “Letters to a Young Painter, Rilke sends Balthus birthday wishes, and inquiries about his school exams and his brothers. These are accounts of quiet domesticity rather than grandiose pronouncements, and, while they might not contradict Rilke’s earlier pronouncements, they at least represent a softening.”

– Caoimhe Morgan-Feir, Canadian Art

"If you need some words of wisdom… This later collection deserves attention... Rilke’s encouragement to the young artist is inspiring and palpable, as is his care.”

– Eileen Kinsella, Artnet News

“...these letters paint a picture of the venerable poet as he faced his mortality, looked back on his life, and continued to embrace his openness toward other creative individuals."

– Editors, The Paris Review

“The books in the series seem designed to slip into your back pocket - slim, spartan, and compact, sporting uniform covers consisting solely of typeface in black or white, with a matching horizontal bar across the top, against a solid color.”

– Thomas Micchelli, Hyperallergic

More books in this series: ekphrasis