Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Queen's Recovery

Here are some bittersweet reminiscences of Queen Elisabeth's recovery from depression after King Albert's death, from Catherine Barjansky, a Russian artist and a friend of the Belgian Royal Family.
For three years Queen Elizabeth, always so quick and active, had lived in a state of mental and physical paralysis. She could not fulfill her duties; in time she could not walk. 
One day, in a desperate effort to arouse her, I asked, "Why don't you take up your sculpture again?" Music, I knew, was out of the question; it only lacerates unhappy nerves. But sculpture is a silent art, and the wet clay is like a compress on sick nerves.
"I will try it for fifteen minutes, just to please you," she said.
"Why don't you do your brother?" I suggested.
She agreed, and her brother came. To our surprise and delight she worked for hours that day, and began again the next. That was the beginning of her recovery; slowly she went from one activity to another.
She also modeled a bust of her gardener, Monsieur Parat. It was an excellent piece of work and was exhibited several times. She had it cast in bronze and planned to please Parat by putting it in the greenhouse  that he loved as though it were his child. She promised him that it would be put there with great ceremony and a day was set in June, 1940. In May, however, Belgium was invaded, and the Queen mother left the palace of Laeken to work in a hospital at Ostend. Later, when she returned from the hospital and King Leopold came back as a prisoner of the Germans, they learned that Monsieur Parat had died. 
After the tragedy of Queen Astrid's death, Queen Elizabeth once more took up the duties of her position, lavishing her affection on her grandchildren. 
I was there when she was modeling the little Prince, Albert - a sculpture for which she later received a prize at the autumn salon in Paris. 
"You know," he told me, "when I grow up, I am going to be very rich." 
The use children make of words has always fascinated me, and I asked him, "What do you mean- you are going to be rich?" 
"Oh," he said, "I am going to love lots of people." (Portraits with Backgrounds, 1947, by Catherine Barjansky, pp. 156-157)

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