{ Painting pictures with words } ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

An illustration I did for CMAJ on Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke.
Rilke was a Symbolist and one of the greatest German poets.  Arguably most famous for his Elegies poems.
I first came across Rilke when studying...French painting.  For you see, Rilke was a great admirer of Paul Cezanne when the greatness of Cezanne was not the accepted fact it is today.  I read one of his letters to his wife describing his encounter with Cezanne's paintings at the 1907 exhibition. I still think it to be one of the most penetrating analysis of the artistic vision and a moving account of a person falling in love with a work of art:
"Today I went to see his {Cezanne's} pictures again. It is remarkable what an ambience they create.  Without looking at any particular one, standing there between the two galleries, you feel their presences joining together into a single colossal reality.  As if these colors were stripping you of your indecisiveness once and for all.  The innocence, the simple truthfulness of these reds, these blues, is instructive, and if you put yourself beneath them and open yourself up to them as much as you can it's as if they do something for you.  You also notice, each time more clearly than the last, how essential it was to get beyond love as well; of course it is only natural that you love each of these objects as you're painting them; but if you show that, you don't paint them as well; you judge them instead of expressing them....You painted "I love this thing," instead of painting: "Here it is."
Rilke came by his love of art honestly.  He was quite in love with Paula Modersohn-Becker, posthumously acknowledged as one of the leading lights in German Expressionism.  Rainer was a struggling poet at the time of his relationship with Paula.  She opted for 'security' and chose established artist Otto Modersohn.  She died in childbirth and left only a handful of outstanding canvases which we remember her by. Rilke did not fully appreciate her skills as a painter during their time together, judging her vision as 'poster style' of art.  It was only after seeing Cezanne that he was better able to appreciate his former lover's accomplishment.


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