You’ve Got Mail! Read the Personal Letters of Great Artists
min Read13 June 2022
Do you ever look at a work of art and wonder, how did the person behind it think? We always want to feel closer to the artists we admire. That is why we visit the places they once lived in or read their biographies. However, we can only imagine their feelings at that particular moment. This is why the personal letters of artists can be our golden ticket! Please come closer and enter the great minds!
Auguste Rodin and His Women
Auguste Rodin is one of the greatest masters of the art world. He sought to convey the moment in the expression of a human face or in a pose, as opposed to an “eternal” synthetic image. The model who posed for him could always move around the studio, and not remain frozen. Rodin surely was an innovator. He had to wait a long time for recognition from both the official authorities and the general public.
Rodin did not need to wait for recognition among the ladies though! They always surrounded the great sculptor. One of them stayed with him his whole life, Rose Beuret. She was the first woman who ever posed for him and the only one he would ever marry. She was definitely a patient one, not only did she put up with all of his lovers and his wild artistic nature, but he proposed to her when she was 77 (and the couple met when she was 22!). They were married only for 25 days when she passed away in 1917. Their relationship was full of tenderness and not only from Beuret’s side. Look at the precious words Rodin uses to address the woman of his life in this personal letter.
Auguste Rodin to Rose Beuret
My dear Rose.
Today I was thinking about you. If I were alone, I would write you a long letter. I was in the village, I felt good, I enjoyed the clean air and beautiful weather, but my soul yearned for you.
You see, I am under an attack of tenderness. I am so changeable that even kind feelings can visit me, although I do not always like to reckon with them. When they sometimes come, I, fascinated by their rare visit, am ready to give them a warm welcome. However, I do not like the tyranny of tender feelings. But I stop my jokes. Write me more, I assure you that it will be nice.
Auguste Rodin to Rose Beuret, 1871.
Camille: Muse, Lover and Artist
In 1881 Rodin met 20-year old Camille Claudel who came to his workshop as an assistant. Claudel was talented, beautiful and young. Rose Beuret’s presence in Rodin’s life did not stop him from having another romance. Claudel and Rodin were together for 9 years. Claudel herself was a very talented sculptor but she never got the fame she deserved. Read more about their bitter love story here.
This is the only personal letter that is left from the intense affair between these two talented sculptors.
Since I have nothing to do now, I am writing to you again. <…>
I walked in the park, everything was already cleaned around, hay, wheat, oats, you can go everywhere, it is wonderful. If you are so kind and keep this word, paradise awaits us. For work, you will get the room you want. The mistress, I think, will be at your feet.
She told me that I can safely swim in the river where her daughter and the maid bathe. There is no danger. If you do not mind, I will do so, because it is a great pleasure, and it will save me from having to go to hot baths in the Aze. It would be nice of you to buy me a dark blue bathing suit with white trim, separate, a blouse and twill drawers (medium size). This can be done at the Louvre, or at the Bon Marche store, or at Tours.
I sleep completely naked to imagine that you are nearby, but when I wake up, I am alone again.
I kiss you. Camilla.
Most importantly, do not fool me anymore.
Camille Claudel to Auguste Rodin, 25 June 1892.
Frida Kahlo and Her Men
Frida Kahlo, a genius artist and a symbol of Mexico, had a life as intense as the colors of her paintings. Of course her lovers were a huge part of it. There are lists of men who were enchanted by Frida. She answered many of them, but first one who comes to mind is her husband, Diego Rivera, also a marvelous painter.
In this union, love was walking hand in hand with the pain, like in all of Kahlo’s life. They could not live together but they could not be without each other. Their on and off relationship lasted 27 years, up to Frida’s death in 1954.
Personal Letters from Frida to Diego
Diego, my love,
Remember that once you finish the fresco we will be together forever once and for all, without arguments or anything, only to love one another.
Behave yourself and do everything that Emmy Lou tells you.
I adore you more than ever. Your girl, Frida
Frida Kahlo to Diego Riviera, 1940.
Truth is, so great, that I wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep, or listen, or love. To feel myself trapped, with no fear of blood, outside time and magic, within your own fear, and your great anguish, and within the very beating of your heart. All this madness, if I asked it of you, I know, in your silence, there would be only confusion. I ask you for violence, in the nonsense, and you, you give me grace, your light and your warmth. I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors, because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love.
Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera, 1950.
Latin American Passion in Frida’s Personal Letter to José Bartoli
Catalonian painter José Bartoli was one of Frida’s many affairs. They met in New York when she was 39 and also married to Rivera. Behind Bartoli there was the burden of a difficult life. He had participated in the Spanish Civil War and later escaped from a concentration camp. They dreamed of hiding from everyone together, in Paris, while realizing the impossibility of these dreams.
I do not know how to write love letters. But I want to say that my whole being is open to you. Since I fell in love with you, everything has changed and filled with beauty … Love is like a fragrance, like a shock, like rain. You know, my sky, you are pouring like rain on me, and I, like the earth, am absorbing you.
Frida Kahlo to José Bartoli, 1946
It is hard to believe that these lyric lines came from the pen of a hooligan and a noble swear-woman Frida!
Geniuses Meeting: Ilya Repin on Leo Tolstoy
The name of Ilya Repin is associated with the highest achievement of Russian Realism in painting. The real sphere of his work was the reality surrounding him. Repin was prone to psychological drama, and in his portraits he reflected everything that he really thought about a person. Repin painted many portraits of Leo Tolstoy, and everywhere his figure is endowed with heroic significance. This is expressed in the scale of his role in the ideological life of society. We can see how the artist admired the great writer in a personal letter to Vladimir Stasov.
… In truth, I was even pleased when I finally decided that I wouldn’t have his visit: I was afraid to be disappointed somehow, for more than once in my life I had seen how talent and genius did not harmonize with a person in private life. But Leo Tolstoy is different – he is a whole brilliant man, and in life he is as deep and serious as in his creations … I felt like such a trifle, insignificance, a boy! I wanted to listen to him and listen endlessly… And he was not stingy, thanks to him, he spoke a lot, heartily and fascinatingly. Ah, all that he said, I would like to write down with golden words on the tablets of marble and read these commandments in the morning and before going to bed …
Ilya Repin to Vladimir Stasov, 8 October 1880.
Kissing Flowers in Rockwell Kent’s Personal Letter
Rockwell Kent, an American 20th-century artist, illustrator, and voyager, who often traveled around the country. There is a rumor that he had a wife in every corner of the earth that he went to! Frances Lee Kent was his second official wife in America. Well, such romantic lines make it easier to wait for a husband to come back from camping in Alaska!
I am so lonely I can hardly bear it. As one needs happiness so have I needed love; that is the deepest need of the human spirit. And as I love you utterly, so have you now become the whole world of my spirit. It is beside and beyond anything that you can ever do for me; it lies in what you are, dear love — to me so infinitely lovely that to be near you, to see you, hear you, is now the only happiness, the only life, I know. How long these hours are alone!
Yet is good for me to know the measure of my love and need, that I may at least be brought to so govern myself as never to lose the love and trust that you have given me.
Dear Frances, let us make and keep our love more beautiful than any love has ever been before.
Forever, dearest one.
Rockwell Kent to his wife Frances, March 1926.
Young Flame in Picasso’s Life
In his paintings, Pablo Picasso managed to work in many different genres: Cubism, Surrealism and more. Also many of his works were inspired by a 17-year-old girl, named Marie-Thérèse Walter. He met her in 1927 and she became his mistress and model. At the time Picasso was married to Russian ballerina, Olga Khokhlova, and their son Paulo was 5 years old. This, as well as the fact that Mademoiselle Walter was legally a minor, forced Picasso to keep their romance a secret. However, the presence of this girl was obvious in his work.
Here you can read about Picasso’s complicated relationship with his lovers.
I see you before my lovely landscape, TM,
And never tire of looking at you.
Stretched out on your back in the sand,
My dear TM, I love you.
TM, my devouring rising sun
You are always on me, TM, mother of sparkling
perfumes pungent with star jasimes,
I love you more than the taste of your mouth
More than your look, more than your hands,
More than your whole body, more and more
And more and more than all my love for you
Will ever be able to love and I sign Picasso
Pablo Picasso to Marie-Thérèse Walter, 29 August 1930.
Tragic Fate of Art-Nouveau Genius, Stated in His Personal Letter
Fyodor Shekhtel was an architect whose work is the most perfect example of Russian Art Nouveau. Any tour of Art Nouveau in Moscow will include many of his buildings – apartment buildings, train stations, trading companies. Most of all though, Shekhtel built private mansions for Moscow patrons (among them Vasily Schapov, Morozov family, Alexandra Derozhinskaya and many more). Shekhtel believed that the owner should not adapt the building for himself, but it should be built taking into account the needs of the owner. All of his employers spoke of him as a wonderful and honest person. However, after the 1917 revolution, Schechtel’s ideas ceased to be interesting, and the great architect died in poverty.
He wrote the letter below to his friend, Russian publisher Ivan Sytin, hoping to get help in providing for his family:
Dear and dearest Ivan Dmitrievich.
From October to the present I haven’t left my bed (for over 6 months) – I have a terrible disease of intestinal atony and of all internal entrails, in French it means relaxation, atrophy): neither my stomach, nor my intestines work without mechanical action – I pray to God to finish this hard labor, – but doctors are bothering for some reason to extend this torment.
I don’t even have money for medicine, I am on social security and receive highest personal pension of 75 rubles a month at the request of the People’s Commissar A.V. Lunacharsky, I’m 67 years old, my wife is the same age, my daughter Ekaterina Fedorovna is also a disabled worker — she has pulmonary tuberculosis, for the last crumbs I bought her “Underwood”, but as you seem to know, there is no place to get work. My wife does not leave me – she must pay to a cook and for these 75 rubles I must feed four and pay 2 chervonets for the apartment (gas, electricity, etc.)
You know how much I love working, but I can’t get work anywhere, and nobody buys anything; meanwhile, I am surrounded by untold riches, in my opinion: my collection of paintings, Persian miniatures, and the library are priceless; About a dozen incunables of the beginning of the XV century, which are estimated at hundreds of thousands, no one buys any.
Schechtel goes on to describe the large amount of art treasures in his possession. The complete list is breathtaking. There are works by Levitan, Vrubel, Borisov-Musatov, Roerich, Korovin, Serov, different tapestries, sculptures, icons, fine china… and this is just a beginning!
Advise me what to do, how to save all these values; I’m afraid that somebody from our Krasnoyarsk Presnensky District Department will come and select paintings and furniture for arranging the local club museum. My wife is old and weak, my daughter is sick (pulmonary tuberculosis) and I do not know what she will exist for, begging with such values is more than unacceptable. Sell it all to museums, even by installments, but only so that they feed my wife, daughter and son Lev Fedorovich.
I built so much for Morozov, Ryabushinsky, von Derwies and I remained poor.
Fyodor Schechtel to Ivan Sytin, 1926.
A Woman of Pre-Raphaelites
Elizabeth Siddal was a muse for many Pre-Raphaelite painters, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Walter Howell Deverell, and William Holman Hunt. Having been born into a simple family, she went on to become one of the most famous figures of the Victorian era. In addition, Siddal was the only woman among the artists who participated in the exhibition of the Pre-Raphaelites in 1857.
She had the greatest influence on Rossetti and he was her only love. However, their relationship was difficult, the artist easily fell in love with other women. Siddal became depressed, undermined her health, and was addicted to opium. Rossetti married her only when the doctors predicted she would have a quick death, after a 10-year long relationship. In Rossetti’s letter to his mother, we can see his coming to this decision at last. Two years later, Siddal died of an opium overdose.
I write you this word to say that Lizzy and I are going to be married at last, in as few days as possible. (…)
Like all the important things I ever meant to do—to fulfill duty or secure happiness—this one has been deferred almost beyond possibility. I have hardly deserved that Lizzy should still consent to it, but she has done so, and I trust I may still have time to prove my thankfulness to her. The constantly failing state of her health is a terrible anxiety indeed; but I must still hope for the best, and am at any rate at this moment in a better position to take the step, as regards money prospects, than I have ever been before. I shall either see you or write again soon, and meanwhile and ever am
Your most affectionate Son,
D. G. Rossetti.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti to his mother, 13 April 1860.
Love of Two 1970s Icons
American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and punk-legend, artist, and writer Patti Smith met when they both were ‘just kids’, as she says in one of her books. This loving relationship determined both of their lives for many years. They lived and survived together, saved money, took turns going to museums, created for each other. Both of them are 1970s icons. However, reading Smith’s words to Mapplethorpe you forget about this, you just feel the deep loving and gratitude from one person to another.
Sadly, Mapplethorpe never got to read this letter, he died days after Smith wrote it.
Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake…You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together…The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occurred to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.
Patti Smith to Robert Mapplethorpe, 1989.
Take a piece of paper and a pen and write a letter to your loved one! Or maybe you would take a brush or a piece of marble? Let us know!
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