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Helene Raff when young
Helene Raff when young

 

 

 

 

Helene Raff in her late 60s
Heene Raff in her late 60s

Raff's daughter, Helene

Helene Raff, the couple's only child, was born in Wiesbaden on 31 March 1865 - six years after their marriage. From an early age she demonstrated artistic tendencies, which probably came as little surprise with a composer and an actress for parents. They decided that she should be tutored privately and not attend school - this led Henrik Ibsen to describe her later as "A child of nature", avoiding state, school and church.

He parents doted on her and by her account it was a happy, loving family in which to grow up. Helene showed talent both as a painter and a writer. Her father, with whom she took daily walks, set two substantial works to her texts - the Cantata Die Tageszeiten (The Times of Day) op.209 (1878) and the song cycle Blondle de Nestle op.211 (1880). The use of the pseudonym Helge Heldt for the author disguises them as the work of his teenage daughter, however.

Raff's early death on 24 June 1882 was a terrible blow. She and her mother Doris soon found that they were short of money as he had made no pension or insurance arrangements for them. They moved from Frankfurt to Munich. Here Doris tried to raise money to enable Helene to pursue her painting career and it was whilst staying with her friend Emilie Bardach in Gossensaas in the Austrian Tyrol in October 1889 that she encountered Henrik Ibsen, the world renowned Norwegian playwright.

Helene was rather scornful of Bardach's passionately platonic friendship with Ibsen, but as soon as she returned to Munich she took to loitering outside Ibsen's house there until she could engineer a "chance" meeting. For the next 18 months, until the Ibsen's returned to Norway, Helene was the second of his three "princesses" - young women with whom he enjoyed highly charged, but chaste friendships.

He regarded her as "youth personified" and wrote: "how healthy you are - and yet at the same time so delicate". Although initially flirtatious, he soon turned paternal - "My wife is truly, cordially fond of you - and I too... Alas, if only I had such a dear and lovely daughter". Perhaps, once Helene realised that their relationship would remain only a friendship, this paternalism was part of Ibsen's continued attraction for her. After all, he was only six years younger than her own father to whom she had been close before his early death and who had also been an artistic genius.

One of her attractions for Ibsen was her determination to make the most of herself - she had some success as a painter and began writing seriously too. She learned Norwegian so as to appreciate his plays all the more and she wrote an unpublished and now lost Ibsen Diary. When he sent her from Norway a copy of one of his plays, he wrote "Helene Raff! A voice within me cries out for you".

After the Ibsens left, she stayed on in Munich and became well known as a portrait painter. She also gained a solid reputation as an author. As well as her biography of her father and further articles about him, she specialised in recording the folk tales and myths of southern Germany. Amongst her works in this area are "Regina Himmelschütz", "Franken Legends and Sayings" and "Old Bavarian Legends". She also wrote "The Munich forest cemetery" and "A guide to old Munich" - her autobiography "Leaves from Life's Tree" was published in 1938.

Later in her life, as a staunch member of Munich's Catholic establishment she was instrumental in introducing Hitler to other members of the city's high society. They both attended a dinner party in 1923.

Perhaps having had close relationships with two artists of genius, she found it difficult to find another man to measure up to them. In any event Helene Raff, Ibsen's "youth personified", never married and died in Munich at the age of 77 in 1942.

© 1999-2014 Mark Thomas. All rights reserved.