When Yves Klein dedicated an ex-voto to Saint Rita

When Yves Klein dedicated an ex-voto to Saint Rita

The French painter, famous for his deep blue monochromes, entrusted his success to Saint Rita of Cascia throughout his life. As a sign of gratitude, he sent her a mysterious ex-voto…

The leader of New Realism grew up in a family of artists in Nice. Devotion to Saint Rita is very present in the capital of the Côte d'Azur. The Church of the Annunciation located in the old town also bears his name. Of Catholic faith, Yves Klein (1928-1962) nourished a form of spirituality in particular thanks to his practice of judo.

In 1952, the young man embarked for Japan. For two years, he led a dual career as a judoka and visual artist. On his return to France in 1954, he published The Foundations of Judo, a work which gives meaning to the expression “martial art”. The following year, Yves Klein began to exhibit his paintings Monochromes In france, in paris. Then the exhibitions followed one another, in Milan, Düsseldorf, London… The construction of the Klein myth was launched.

The French painter repeatedly requests the intercession of the patroness of lost causes, placing his artistic success under her protection. In 1958, at the age of 30, he undertook his first pilgrimage to the convent of Cascia, Italy, in the footsteps of Saint Rita. Three years later, in 1961, while a retrospective exhibition was devoted to the artist at the Krefeld Museum in Germany, Yves Klein returned to the monastery. Accompanied by his future wife Rotraut Uecker, he anonymously placed an object of his composition there: an ex-voto dedicated to Saint Rita.

Two decades of secrecy

This object will remain in the greatest secret for twenty years within the walls of the sanctuary. It was not until 1980, after an earthquake damaged the basilica, that it attracted attention. During work on the stained glass windows, the craftsman in charge of the repair needed gold leaf and the nuns offered to collect those from the unknown ex-voto. This is how he recognized the style of Yves Klein and shared this exceptional discovery. The work was officially authenticated by the art historian Pierre Restany and by Daniel Moquay, president of the Yves Klein archives in Paris.

This small box is characteristic of the artist's work. With its reliquary-like appearance, it contains fragments of his three favorite colors, which the painter called his “trinity”: pink, sacred gold and ultramarine blue. This last pigment, registered under the name International Klein Blue by the painter, recalls the infinite power of the ocean and the sky. One tangible and the other barely graspable by the eye.

A prayer to Saint Rita

In the glass case, Yves Klein has inscribed a prayer to Saint Rita. We can read there:

''Saint Rita of Cascia I ask you to intercede with God, the almighty father so that he always grants me grace in the name of the Son Christ Jesus and in the name of the Holy Spirit and the holy Virgin Mary to inhabit my works and that they always become more beautiful and then also the grace that I always continually and regularly discover new things in art each time more beautiful even if unfortunately I am not always worthy of being a tool to build and create Great Beauty. May everything that comes out of me be beautiful. So be it.''

The importance of faith for Yves Klein

By offering this ex-voto to the eternal figure of Saint Rita, Yves Klein continues his reflection on the void, the visible and the invisible. He fills this receptacle with his faith, impalpable, but existing through his passion for Rita de Cascia.

This work is one of the last by Yves Klein, who died in 1962, a year after donating the ex-voto. It is still kept in the Umbrian convent and has been regularly exhibited. In 2022, the ex-voto was visible during the “Yves Klein Intimate” exhibition at the Hôtel de Caumont art center, in Aix-en-Provence. It was also presented at the Center Pompidou in 2007.

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