Setsuko Klossowski de Rola (born 1943) is a Japanese painter. She has been in charge of the Villa Medici in Rome, has exhibited her work internationally, and is also a writer. She became UNESCO’s Artist For Peace in 2005. She is the widow of the French painter, Balthus, and is honorary president of the Balthus Foundation. Setsuko was born, Setsuko Ideta, in Tokyo in 1943. She graduated from Tokyo Morimura Gakuen High School in 1961 and entered the department of French language at Sophia University in Tokyo. As a university student, she met the painter Balthus who was visiting Japan for the first time in 1962. They got married in 1967. Setsuko assisted Balthus, acting as the headmistress of Villa Medici, where he presided as director of the French Academy in Rome. In 1968, she gave birth to a son, Fumio, who died aged two years and six months. In 1973, a daughter, Harumi, was born. In 1977, Setsuko and Balthus left the French Academy and moved to Le Grand Chalet in Rossinière, Switzerland. Balthus died in 2001.
Setsuko made rapid progress as a painter. Her exhibitions were held at:
Pierre Matisse Art Gallery in New York in 1984
Alice Pauli in Lausanne in 1986
The Lefevre Gallery in London in 1989
Takanawa Prince Hotel in 1989
The Lefevre Gallery in London in 1992
Hotels Salon de Rothschild in 1993
In 1988 her collection entitled Setsuko was published by Librairie Seguier. In 1991, she painted a wine label for the prestigious Bordeaux Mouton Rothschild. In 1994, upon request by Limited Edition of New York, she produced illustrations for a limited grand edition of Koyahijiri (Saint of Mt. Koya, a work by Ky?ka Izumi). The illustrations were exhibited in New York, Paris and Rome. At Sotheby’s in Zurich in 1999, a Balthus and Setsuko Klossowski de Rola exhibition was held entitled Sotheby’s Kingdom of the Cats. In the same year, an exhibition entitled Setsuko & Harumi was held at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. In 2002, when the Balthus Foundation was established, Setsuko was designated as its honorary president, and she was also Cultural Patron of the 2002 Venice Congress the same year. In 2005, she became UNESCO’s Artist For Peace. In 2005 and 2006, Mainichi Newspaper and Asahi Shimbun sponsored her exhibition entitled Setsuko-no-kurashi Wa-no-kokoro (Spirit of Japan, Setsuko’s Life) in Kumamoto, Yokohama and Tokyo. In 2010, she exhibited at Galerie Yoshii in Paris in January, and in Tokyo in February. She appeared as a guest in an Asahi TV talk show Tetsuko’s Room. Other TV appearances include Tanoshii Engei (Enjoy Gardening) by NHK’s Education Channel and Grand Chalet by Swiss TV.
Setsuko’s written work includes:
Miru-bi, Kiku-bi, Omou-bi (Beauty as vision, sound and thought) by Shodensha and later recorded in Asahi Bunko;
Grand Chalet Yume-no-toki (Grand Chalet Remains of a dream) by Sekaibunkasha
Balthus’ yuga-na-seikatsu (Balthus’ elegant life) and Wa-to yorusou kurashi (Life with Wa) both by Shincho-sha
Wa wo tsukuru bi (Beauty that makes Wa) by Shodensha
Kimono-wo matou bi (Beauty of wearing kimono) by Fusosha
Grand Chalet-no tezukuri kurashi (Grand Chalet a hand-made life) by Sekaibunkasha
Meguriau-hana, shiki. Soshite kurashi (Flowers encountered, four seasons and life style) by Kadokawa Magazines
My favourite shop in the world is situated in an antiquated premise at 173 Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris. Astier de Villatte sells, quite simply, the most exquisite ceramics. The latest addition I’m lusting after for my collection of hand-chipped white plates, vases, mugs (and more) are the pieces designed in collaboration with the Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola, a Japanese painter and writer, who exhibits at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York and Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild in Paris. Top of my list is this ‘smoking cat’ incense burner. It is luxuriously whimsical (spirals of incense pour from the mouth) and makes for an artistic alternative to a scented candle.
The Setsuko Collection is exclusive to Astier de Villatte, 173 Rue Sainte-Honoré, Paris (0142 607 413), €141. An edited collection of Astier de Villatte is available at Liberty.