Erlenbach-Zürich und Leipzig: Rotapfel-Verlag, 1921. First edition. 8vo, original printed cream paper over boards.
First edition of the artists' first book, published when he was only 13 through the agency of Rainer Maria Rilke, who provides the foreward. Rilke was at the time romantically involved with Balthasar's mother, and was very close to the young Balthus.
Mitsou is a worldless story which follows the arrival and disappearance of a stray cat, and ends with the narrator in silent tears. The drawins exude a confidence that seems beyond the work of an 11 year old. The grief occasioned by absence and conflicted feelings about childhood foreshadow all the artist's subsequent work, and is essential for any full understanding of it. It is also the most clearly autobiographical work by an artist who endeavored to keep his personal biography at bay from his paintings. Cats play a significant role in Balthus' paintings throughout his career. His 1935 self-portrait was entitled "Le roi des chats."
Rilke's foreward is his first published work in French, and represents an imprtant transition in his work. "...the short prose essay also represented a turning point for his own career. It was his first published work originally composed in French, his first liberating experience in writing with some precision and elegance in the language he had chosen to adopt. He wrote proudly to Lou just before New Year's that in writing this preface all his ideas had come to him in French and nothing had been translated in his mind." [Freedman, p. 505]
The binding is lightly toned at margins, with 2 faint droplet stains to cover (tears, perhaps) and some light wear to the spine ends, including a 1" closed tear at head of rear panel at spine. There is a binder's wrinkle to the paper over the cover of the front board, which is inked and predates the printing of the book - there are also a couple similar innocuous creases to the paper on two pages of the foreward. Otherwise, this is a bright, clean, near fine example of a fragile book, much better than usually found. Item #29280