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BALTHUS (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, dit)

(1908 - 2001)


Balthus, a French painter of Polish descent on the paternal side and Russian on his mother’s (both of them citizens of Prussia) was born in 1908 in Paris. His family was forced to leave France at the beginning of World War I because of their nationality. After staying with Professor Jean Strohl in Zurich, the family moved to Berlin. In 1917 his parents separated, and Balthasar after a few months in Berne moved with his brother and mother to Geneva. At the age of 12, Balthus published his first drawings in a collection in which the preface was written in French by Rilke, entitled Mitsou, named after a kitten that he had found and then lost. The collection contains forty drawings by Balthus. Once again the family settled down in Berlin, in 1922, but in 1924 Balthus left for Paris. He met Pierre Bonnard and Maurice Denis, who advised him to copy the works of Poussin in the Louvre after he had shown them his drawings. That year he met his future wife Antoinette de Watteville, who was at that time only twelve. He attended lectures at the Grande Chaumiere Academy in Paris. Thanks to the patronage of Professor Strohl, he spent the summer of 1926 in Italy, studying Renaissance painters. He copied the frescoes of Della Francesco and Masaccio-Masolino. In 1929 the Förter Gallery in Zurich organised his first exhibition. He presented ten paintings, alongside the works of Toni Ciolino and the lithographs of Gregor Rabinovitch. In 1933 in Paris he met the poet Pierre-Jean Jouve, Derain, Giacometti and Picasso. Several years letter Picasso bought his painting The Blanchard Children. After scenes from everyday life, landscapes and portraits, he painted naked young girls and in the Loeb Gallery exhibited the work The Guitar Lesson (1934), which caused a scandal. 1935 was a very creative year for him: he did the set and costumes for Artaud’s drama The Cenci, published eight illustrations for Wuthering Heights in the journal Minotaur. He married Antoinette on April 2, 1937, but they separated in 1946. He left Paris in 1953 and moved to the palace of Chassy, with the support of a group of collectors and merchants. In 1961 culture minister André Malraux appointed him director of the Académie de France in the Villa Médicis. He at once started on the renovation of the building and then of the gardens. When Malraux sent him to Japan, he met his future wife Setsuko Ideta, who accompanied him in Rome. They married in Japan in 1967. He bought and moved to the Grand Chalet de Rossiniere in Switzerland, where in 2011 the Balthus Foundation was opened. He died a month after the opening of the foundation, on February 18, 2001. Katia in an Armchair (1970-1971) - the female eros is here the main motif of a portrait of a young woman with a skirt pulled up over her bare legs. Strangely, this eros does not find its way to the observer, but seems to radiate in the interior of the body, towards the skin of the paper that vibrates, from a hidden focus, invisible as with the celestial bodies, the existence of which we suppose only because of the effects of substances and gravitation in the atmosphere.

Katia dans un fauteuil
Katia dans un fauteuil, 1970-1971

Crayon sur papier de couleur
100 x 70 cm
Don de la Société des Amis, 2009
Collection de la Fondation Maeght