Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Jill Krementz covers Balthus at the Met

Balthus at Chassy; July 9, 1956

Then I did not dare to contradict the great poet (Rilke)
Is the world of men really permanent?
See how it evaporates, as in a dream!
No. It is the world of cats that exists.
For there is only the world of cats ...
From an old cat."
— B
Balthus: Cats and Girls—Paintings and Provocations Metropolitan Museum
September 25, 2013-January 12, 2014

Balthasar Klossowski (1908) 2001) was a French painter who called himself Balthus. Although he was well-known for his Parisian street scenes, this exhibition, curated by the Met's Sabine Rewald, a  renowned Balthus expert, focuses on felines and the dark side of childhood

Balthus's lifelong fascination with adolescence resulted in his most erotic (and iconic) works: girls on the threshold of puberty, hovering between innocence and knowledge.

On display in four galleries are the artist's powerful depictions of childhood and adolescence. Often included in these scenes are enigmatic cats, possible stand-ins for the artist himself.

The exhibition is organized chronologically and focuses on the early decades of the artist's career, from the mid-1930s to the 1950s, and features 34 paintings, as well as 40 ink drawings for the book Mitsou that were created in 1919, when Balthus was 11 years old; thought to be lost, these drawings have never before been on public display.

A fine exhibition catalogue with an essay by Ms. Rewald  accompanies the exhibit.
Tom Campbell, Director of the Met, with Sabine Rewald, the exhibition's curator.

Ms. Rewald is considered to be the world's foremost Balthus scholar.
The King of Cats, 1935; Oil on canvas

Nothing in the work identifies Balthus as a painter except the English inscription on the stone slab.

The imperious and haughty demeanor reveals that the twenty-seven-year-old artist had recovered from the upheavals of the previous year. Some setbacks in his professional and private life had caused Balthus to stop painting.

As in his commissioned portraits at this time, (1936-1939) Balthus reduced the palette to warm tawny colors and black with a patch of red.
The fat tiger cat used to come through the skylight and visit the painter in his studio at 6 rue de Furstenberg in Paris.
Portrait of Sheila Pickering–Princess of Cats, 1935
Oil on canvas

This portrait of seventeen-year-old Sheila Pickering is a pendant to the artist's self-portrait as The King of Cats (1935).

The English Sheila moved in the artistic circles of Paris and delighted her friend Balthus with her exuberance and mischievousness.
Thérèse, 1936
Oil on canvas

In 1935, having recovered from the "setbacks" Balthus picked up his brushes again but only for portrait commissions.

His sitters belonged mostly to the artistic and fashionable circles of Paris. By 1936 he was chafing under the burden of these commissions, especially from women of a certain age.

The appearance of eleven-year-old Thérèse Blanchard (1925–1950) that year must have provided a welcome respite. She lived with her parents and siblings just a few blocks away from Balthus's studio at 3 cour de Rohan, where he had moved in October 1935.
Thérèse was not pretty, but Balthus did not care for conventional prettiness. With short dark hair, dark eyes, and even features, she projects intelligence, aloofness, and stubbornness. Between 1936 and 1939 he painted ten pictures of Thérèse that capture both the vulnerability and the willfulness of adolescence. Thérèse had numerous successors, but they lack her distinct features, and Balthus's portrayals of them do not plumb the same depths.
View of gallery.
Brother and Sister, 1936
Oil on paperboard

Even when captured in a playful situation with one of her brothers, as here, Thérèse Blanchard looks serious.

Both children are dressed in sober everyday clothes. One year later, twelve-year-old Thérèse appears with her fourteen-year-old brother, Hubert, in the large painting The Blanchard Children.

The artist's gloomy studio at 3 cour de Rohan in Paris, devoid of toys or bric-a-brac, heightens the dramatic impact of the painting. This iconic work, once owned by Picasso, was not allowed to travel to New York.
Harold Holzer, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs at the Met, with Carrie Rebora Barratt, the Met's Associate Director for Administration.
Jennifer Russell, the Met's exhibition manager, with Harold Holzer.
Thérèse Painting, 1938; Oil on cardboard mounted on wood

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Allan D. Emil, in honor of William S. Lieberman, 1987.

According to Ms. Rewald, "Bill Lieberman's 1984 Balthus retrospective was my introduction to Balthus and I'm happy to be able to reintroduce the artist to a new generation of viewers."
Thérèse Dreaming, 1938; Oil on canvas

This painting is the second of two Théreses owned by the Met.

With her raised left leg offering a peak at her white undergarments, Thérèse sits in a posture that girls assume in unguarded moments.

Balthus also captured her from the low vantage point of the cat. He imbued her still-innocent exhibitionism with a touch of suggestiveness.
Rachel Nelson worked closely with Sabine on the show for a year and a half.

According to Sabine, Ms. Nelson "conducted invaluable research, managed the ever-mounting administrative aspects of the project, and offered thoughtful and incisive suggestions and fine ideas throughout its duration."
Thérèse, 1938
Oil on board
Thérèse, 1939
Oil on canvas
Thérèse on a Bench Seat, 1939
Oil on canvas

Playing with a cat, Thérèse holds a string in her raised right hand. This canvas is Balthus's last known painting of Thérèse Blanchard.

In September 1939 he was called up for military service and sent to the front. When he returned to Paris in 1946, Thérèse had married and moved to a different neighborhood.

She died in 1950, at the age of twenty-five, of unknown causes.
Detail of string and white cat.
Study of Three Figures, 1939
Oil on graphite on cardboard

This is a reproduction of Balthus's study included in the exhibtion adjacent to Thérèse on a Bench Seat.

See if you can spot the variations.
Franklin Einspruch is a writer and artist based in Boston. He visits the Met and other museums and galleries on a regular basis to sketch.

Einspruch is covering the Balthus for The New Criterion.
The Salon I, 1941–43
Oil on canvas

The farmstead's colorful petit bourgeois "salon" served as setting in the two versions of The Salon I and The Salon II (1942), both on view in this gallery.

This picture radiates more light and employs broader brushstrokes. The farmer's thirteen-year-old daughter, Georgette Coslin, posed for both figures.
Detail of The Salon I.
The Salon II, 1942
Oil on canvas
After Balthus was wounded during the first months of World War II, he and his wife, Antoinette de Watteville, left Paris in June 1940.

They took refuge at an old farmstead in the Savoie—the free zone of France not yet occupied by the Germans. Their next domicile was an elegant apartment in Fribourg, Switzerland.

Always susceptible to his surroundings, the artist replaced the severe atmosphere of his Paris studio with new colorful interiors in which different adolescents continue to read, dream, or peer into a mirror. As a consequence, his works became more conventionally pleasing.

Balthus strove for a "timeless" realism, as he called it, which becomes especially apparent in the pictures created during the war because they never allude to contemporary events.

Pictured above: The Golden Days, 1944–46; Oil on canvas

A pretty adolescent girl peers at herself in a mirror while a man tends the fire. For all the scene's ambiguity, however, it unfolds in a well-defined composition that contrasts daylight and firelight.

The model was fourteen-year-old Odile Bugnon, who posed in the artist's apartment in Fribourg. In 1986 the adult Odile remembered that there was a fireplace but no man.
Girl in Green and Red, 1944
Oil on canvas

The girl in the green-and-red top and cape evokes the impish magicians often found on tarot cards.

The model is Antoinette de Watteville, the artist's thirty-two-year-old wife. Balthus made her look fifteen or sixteen years old—but then, magicians never age.
Detail of Girl in Green and Red.
Still Life with a Figure, 1940
Oil on canvas

Still Life with a Figure is one of the first pictures Balthus painted at Champrovent, an old farmstead in the Savoie, the free zone of France not yet occupied by the Germans.

Georgette Coslin, the farmer's twelve-year- old daughter, grimly faces a frugal repast of home-baked bread, local cider, and the last apples of the season.
The Cardplayer, 1947
Oil on canvas
Detail of The Cardplayer.
The Cardplayer, 1947
(A reproduction of the original, oil on canvas, not included in the exhibit.)

Balthus's children play only card games. The confident look on this girl's face indicates that she is winning—or thinks she is. The artist included another male player in this version.

He painted this work in Paris in 1947.

As you can see, the cat is NOT in this painting, nor is the painting on exhibit at the Met. This reproduction of the original is mounted on the wall for reference.
Sleeping Girl
French, Paris 1908– 2001 Rossinière

Balthus painted this work in Fribourg, where he lived with his wife and two sons from 1942 until late 1945.

The sleeping girl is Jeannette Aldry. She seems older than Thérèse Blanchard, who had been his favorite model in Paris, but she has a similar grave look.
The Victim, 1939–46
Oil on canvas

Balthus subverted the well-known motif of the reclining female nude. Instead of a sensual Venus, he presents a haunting victim.

The artist leaves in doubt, however, if the victim is dead or in a trance. His largest canvas until that time, it had remained in his studio when Balthus left Paris in June 1940, and he completed or touched it up when he returned to the city in March 1946.

The work might be a veiled reference to World War II.
The Week with Four Thursdays, 1949
Oil on canvas

During this period, schools in France where closed on Thursdays. A week of four Thursdays would be bliss—a feeling mirrored on the faces of both cat and girl (see detail, above right).

Nineteen-year-old Laurence Bataille, the artist's muse and favorite model at the time, posed for this work and Nude with Cat (1949), also shown in this gallery, two of the four paintings that make up this series of 1948–49.
Nude with Cat, 1949
Oil on canvas
The Cat of La Méditerranée,1949
Oil on canvas

Balthus painted the large picture as a decoration for the interior of "La Méditerranée," a seafood restaurant that still operates on the Place de l'Odéon in Paris.

It was a favorite with writers and artists, among them Albert Camus, Paul Éluard, André Malraux, Georges Bataille, and Marie-Laure de Noailles, at whose instigation Balthus created this work.
The feasting cat is a self-portrait.
Study for The Cat of Le Meditérranée, 1949
Oil on board

If you take another look at the finished painting you can see that Balthus added the lobster.
The Game of Patience, 1954
Oil on canvas
Girl in White Smock, 1955
Oil on canvas
Nude in Front of a Mantel, 1955
Oil on canvas

Her large flat feet placed in front of each other, the static figure evokes those in an ancient Egyptian frieze.

With the mantelpiece scaled down to waist height, the nude who was inspired by a magazine illustration appears monumental.
The Toilette, 1957
Oil on canvas

Wearing nothing but white knee socks and red slippers, nineteen-year-old Frédérique Tison radiates wholesome sensuality.

By averting her eyes, she allows the viewer to linger over her body. Squaring of the canvas is visible throughout, especially noticeable in the curtain at left and the nightstand at right.
Monica Tromley works as an entertainment lawyer and in film production. She has just started a blog, "women around town," and her first piece will be about Balthus. Claire Henry, who used to write for The Financial Times, and freelance art critic Jason Kaufman.
David Cohen, Xico Greenwald, and Lance Esplund.

Mr. Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of Artcritical. He used to direct the art gallery at The Studio School where he curated the shows. Cohen hosts a monthly panel at The National Academy — The next one is October 4, 2013: Ara Merjian, Roberta Smith and Stephen Westfall are the panelists.

Xico (pronounced Chico) Greenwald writes for the online version of The New York Sun.

Mr. Esplund is the U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.
Sheena Wagstaff, Chairman of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Met.

On the wall:
Girl at a Window,
Oil on canvas
Sheena Wagstaff, Dennis Kardon, and David Cohen.

Mr. Kardon is an artist and, lately, a writer for Art in America.
Girl at a Window Painting, 1957
Oil on canvas

Seen from behind, Fréderique Tison stands at a window at Chassy. Balthus's niece by marriage, Fréderique moved to Chassy in 1954 and her "uncle's" favorite model.
This photograph appears in the exhibition catalogue. The room was also the setting of The Dream where it was dipped in darkness. Here it is filled with light. Strong rays of early morning sun strike the window frames, casting shadows on the left-hand wall. Farther away that sunlight, like a gauzy filter softens the contours and colors of the garden and the gates and red roofer sheds of the farm's courtyard beyond. The valley of the Yonne River lies in the distance.

Balthus painted more than twenty landscapes at Chassy. He captured the views from various, mostly second-floor windows, which explain their high vantage point.

In the landscapes, he did not include the window frames, as he did in this picture and his earlier Girl at a Window, 1955. Balthus adopted the evocative nineteenth century motif of a figure at a window yet without the Romantic connotation of yearning or longing for the faraway.

Instead, this work has a picture-book decorativeness that is rarely encountered in Balthus's art.
Freelance journalist Celia McGee writes frequently for The New York Times. James Gardiner, a freelance art critic.
Robert Greskovic and his long-time partner, Gilbert Gaytan. Mr. Greskovic covers dance for the Wall Street Journal.
Detail of The Moth.
The Moth, 1959
Casein tempera on canvas

The erotic content of Balthus's paintings becomes less ambiguous at Chassy, as in this rare night scene.

To achieve the fresco-like effect of this work, Balthus applied many layers of casein tempera, a technique that points toward the new direction his art would take in Rome beginning in 1961.
The Dream, 1955
Oil on canvas
Right: The Cup of Coffee, 1959-60; Oil on canvas. Above: Detail.
Rachel Nelson, Sabine Rewald, and Met press officer Alexandra Kozlakowski.

Ms. Rewald, during the press conference, told us that she had once visited Balthus when he was working on the Villa Medici in Rome. As a student, she wrote her dissertation on him at the Institute of Fine Arts.

"You were only allowed to write about dead artist but they made an exception for me because he was so classical.

"It's been almost three decades since we've shown Balthus's work.

"Balthus focused on young girls, rebellion and boredom--easier to depict in poetry and prose. Balthus did it in paint."
Art critic John Zeaman.
Mr. Zeaman told me that there was "too much alligatoring in this painting." Alligatoring is a house painter's term. It refers to an oily layer which is not quite dry and is trapped in the middle when a new layer of paint is applied.
MITSOU, 1919
Balthus was only eleven in 1919 when he created the forty pen-and-ink drawings shown here in public for the first time.
Two of the 48 drawings on display in two vitrines.

Don't miss this small room which is tucked away from the four main galleries.
To compensate for the loss of his cat, Mitsou, the year before, the young Balthus felt compelled to record the animal's sudden appearance and disappearance from his life.
It was during an excursion with his parents to Lake Geneva, Switzerland, in 1918, that the ten-year-old Balthus found the small stray.

He named her Mitsou and took her back to the country house outside Geneva where his family lived with friends.
The cat's brief disappearance one evening sounded an alarm. At the beginning of the boy's illness, caused by overindulgence in sweets on Christmas eve, Mitsou loyally stayed with her bedridden friend, but then her patience waned and she disappeared for good.
After searching for his playmate indoors and out in the dark, Balthus remains alone with his tears in the last drawing.
The great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke first saw the drawings when visiting Balthus's mother, Elisabeth Klossowski, in Geneva in autumn 1920. (He was purportedly having an affair with her).

Rilke was so impressed by the works' remarkable draftsmanship and innate sense of perspective, form, and drama that he arranged for them to be published in 1921. He also added a foreword in French.
Girl with Goldfish, 1948
Oil on canvas

The painting evokes the world of nineteenth-century children's tales that mingle dark humor with a sense of foreboding.

The cat smiles knowingly, anticipating the feast of the two goldfish.
A second variation of this painting is on view, without the girl and minus one fish.

Both paintings are displayed, on opposite walls, with the drawings of Mitsou.
View of gallery.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully Illustrated catalogue Balthus: Cats and Girls—Paintings and Provocations published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press. It is for sale in the Museum's book shops (hardcover, $45).

Education programs include a series of exhibition tours, a lecture entitled "The Moody and Willful Adolescent Models of Balthus" on November 15, and a "Studio Workshop— Painting: Exploring Figure and Ground" to be held on November 10, 17, and 24.
Postcards available in the gift shop.
The urns in the main hall of the Met are filled with beautiful flowers celebrating the fall season. Visitors are asked to place their stickers on this easel/supported poster as they exit the museum.
Exiting the museum I passed this accommodating security guard photographing Met visitors.
6:30 p.m.: The guests arriving.
A musician serenades the arriving guests with his saxophone.
Isabelle Duvernois is a paintings conservator at the Met.

"I surface-clean our paintings. I worked with Sabine on the two Thérese portraits that belong to the Met."
Martin Kline and Marla Prather.

Mr. Kline is a painter whose work is in the Met's collection.

Ms. Prather, the Museum's Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, curated the recent retrospective of Ken Price's sculpture which just closed. (LINK)
Hungarian gallerist Janos Gat, Marla Prather, and Judge Rachel Davidson.
The Fisch Family. Judge Rachel Davidson retired recently from the NY Superior Court; Elizabeth works at Vogue, Margaret goes to NYU and Abigail to Columbia; Mark Fisch is on the Met's board.
Sabine Rewald introducing James Watt to Dominique Shuseky, the personal assistant to investment banker Mr. David-Weill. Her boss is on the Met's Board. Countess Setsuko Klossowski de Rola, James Watt, and Sabine Rewald.

Mr. Watt, Ms. Rewald's husband, is the retired
Chairman of the Department of Asian Art whose career at the Met spanned 25 years. He is Curator Emeritus of the department.
Sabine Rewald with Countess Setsuko Klossowski de Rola, Balthus's wife at the time of his death. Sen, aged 5, is the grandson of Balthus. On the right is her daughter, Harumi Klossowski.

When I asked Countess Setsuko how long she was with her husband, she replied: "A long, long, long time — more than 20 years. Maybe 25."

They met in 1962 and married in 1967.
Anna Klossowski, 27, Balthus's granddaughter, is a curator for a Paris gallery (Galerie Vieille du Temple) specializing in contemporary art.

As a young girl she visited her grandfather's atelier in Rossinière, Switzerland.

"He didn't like it if we hung around very much in the studio but we did have sneak peaks and I did watch him mix his pigment. And I could see at the paintings in their various stages."
Musician Peter Duchin. His wife, Virginia Coleman, is with Gagosian. The couple just celebrated their first wedding anniversary.

Gagosian is showing Balthus's small color polaroids in their new gallery space on Madison.
Larry Gagosian manages the Balthus estate.
Brits Hugo Nathan, an art dealer in London, with Jessie Fortune Ryan from the London Gallery, Paradise Row.

Mr. Nathan is involved in the sale of Balthus's drawings.
Artist Alexandre Arrechea, Ivana Lowell, and Anna Klossowski.

Arrechea, the Cuban-born sculptor whose work adorned the Park Avenue medians, recently learned that a work of his installed in Columbus, Ohio was vandalized by a woman who thought the structure was a jungle gym.

Guinness heiress Ivana Lowell is the author of Why Not Say What Happened? Included in her memoir are many artists, namely Lucien Freud, who was married to her mother, Lady Caroline Lowell.
Olivier Berggruen and Ivana Lowell.

Mr. Berggruen was recently profiled in The Wall Street Journal by Mary M. Lane.

"As a boy, Olivier Berggruen was forbidden to enter his father Heinz's famous gallery in Paris. He was also oblivious to his father's role in fortifying the legacies of modern masters such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

"Today, the 49-year-old art historian plays a pivotal role in the art world himself, helping to oversee the Berggruen Museum in Berlin, which recently reopened after a two-year renovation and expansion. Many art dealers regard it as the best modern collection on permanent display outside Paris or New York.

"The museum's holdings not only trace the artistic evolution of modern masters such as Picasso, Matisse, Paul Cézanne and Paul Klee, but they also chronicle the development of the art market itself—from the relaxed deals of the 1950s to the feverish sales at the auction houses of today.
"The permanent collection comprises 165 works sold by Heinz Berggruen to the city of Berlin in 2000 for about $100 million, far below market value. Because the family was Jewish, the German government considered the transaction a sign of reconciliation. The elder Mr. Berggruen, who had returned to Germany after many decades of exile, died in 2007 at age 93.

"The expanded museum also includes some 80 paintings and works on paper lent by the family, most of which are newly on display and many recently acquired. The highlight of these is Picasso's "The Women of Algiers (Version L)," a 1955 oil that the family bought at Christie's May 2011 sale in New York for $21.4 million, a big-ticket item even by Berggruen standards."
Lucas Wittmann, Literary Editor of The Daily Beast. Dr. Kent Sepkowitz and Lucas Wittmann. Dr. Sepkowitz, a frequent contributor to The Daily Beast, heads Memorial Sloan Kettering's Department of Infectious Diseases.
Writer Deborah Soloman (married to Dr. Sepkowitz) has written the definitive biography of Norman Rockwell to be published on November 5th by FSG.

Many of Rockwell's original Americana cover illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post will be auctioned off by Sotheby's.

Saying Grace is estimated to fetch $15-20 million.

Balthus clearly liked painting young girls. Rockwell liked young boys.
Artist Kiki Smith wearing a gold and silver necklace she designed.

She wanted to be photographed in front of this Balthus, "because I love the wall paper."

Smith, often referred to as a feminist artist, is the daughter of sculptor Tony Smith whose work I also admire.
Balthus's son, Stanislas Klossowski de Rola, 71, with his Chinese wife Tan.

"Prince Stash," as he is known, is a rock star of sorts. He was the first pick to play with the Monkees back in the early days but turned it down and the role went to Davy Jones. "I turned it down after reading the pilot as I was very disappointed.

"I did however play with the legendary Vince Taylor (David Bowie wrote 'Ziggy Stardust' about him) and we co-topped the bill with The Rolling Stones at The Paris Olympia in 1965. I also played with The Beatles and Joe Cocker, among others."
After my father did this painting, I was always invited to eat at this wonderful restaurant, La Méditerranée, for free." As with my father, it was my favorite place to dine."
"The girl in this painting is my mother Baroness Antoinette de Watteville whom Balthus courted for many years before they got married in 1937. My mother was great friends with Setsuko and my parents only divorced in 1966 so he and Setsuko could marry with the whole family's full blessing."
Stash's stash of rings.
Stash and Tan with Alexandre Arrechea.
Riding down in the elevator with Stash I asked him if he had any extensions. "No," he said. This is the result of 25 years of growing my dreadlocks."

I told him he looked like Georgia O'Keeffe and he agreed.
The reception was held in the Great Hall on the ground floor of the Met.
Alexandra Kozlakowski, wearing a dress "borrowed from my sister," was the Met's press officer on duty for the evening's festivities. Carrie Rebora Barratt, Associate Director, who works closely with Tom Campbell.
Tom and Phoebe Campbell. Harumi Klossowski and Sen, partying after his bedtime but none the worse for wear.
Sabine Rewald with Anna Wahli, Balthus's last model.

Ms. Wahli now lives in Lausanne, Switzerland where she is a social worker.
"I posed for Balthus from age 8 to 12 during which time he painted The Cat in The Mirror #3.

"I posed after that time as well, from age 12 to 16 but all those paintings remain unfinished."

James Watt and Sabine with artist Pat Steir. Nova Lovori and Sigmund Abeles. Ms. Lovori is a volunteer for the Committee on Fundraising for the Met. "We are charged with raising capital funds for the museum. Our goal is a billion dollars--it's a rolling goal.
Artist Sigmund Abeles has his catalogue autographed by Sabine Rewald.
Mr. Watt and Ms. Rewald leave the reception after an evening of accolades. On the way to the elevator, Ms. Rewald stopped to thank her assistant Rachel Nelson for her hard work and expertise over the past year and a half.
9:15 p.m. Sabine Rewald and James Watt head toward Sabine's office to retrieve her coat before heading home.

What a triumph.

Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved. Contact Jill Krementz here.