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Balthus’ Illustrations of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights

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Grout, Rachel 


Between 1932 and 1935 Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, known as Balthus (1908-2001) created a series of illustrations of Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights. Diverging from the contemporary Surrealist interpretation of the novel, Balthus developed a very personal reading which focuses on the theme of childhood. His perspective arose from strong beliefs about the human condition which he seems to have held from early youth. This paper provides a detailed analysis of Balthus’ graphic response to Brontë’s novel, broadly comparing it with Luis Buñuel’s Surrealist film version and setting it within the context of Surrealist ideas in general. To help elucidate Balthus’ vision, his artistic sources are examined closely, together with his preparatory studies, and the specific passages he chose to illustrate from Brontë’s novel are analysed, with the aid of his own writings. The main contributions of this paper include new suggested artistic sources for the illustrations and the linking of the Wuthering Heights series with Balthus’ painting of The Guitar Lesson. Overall, this paper hopes to develop our understanding of Balthus’ artistic aims by demonstrating his commitment to the expression of certain themes fundamental to his art, which he recognised in Wuthering Heights. It also focuses upon Balthus’ communion with and heavy reliance upon the art of the past, by observing his constant re-interpretation of poses, facial features and compositional arrangements from the Old Masters to convey meaning within his own work. Finally, Balthus’ creative interpretation of Emily Brontë’s wild and unique masterpiece presents an intriguing lens through which to appreciate the familiar and well-loved story of Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship.



Balthus, Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff, Catherine Earnshaw, Childhood, Buñuel, Surrealism, Book illustrations

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