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biography - in memoriam


Painter's House Balthus at the Grand Chalet
. Photographs Kishin Shinoyama, text Gero von Boehm. Get it from, or German edition: Das Haus des Malers Balthus im Grand Chalet. Photographien Kishin Shinoyama, Text Gero von Boehm. Gebunden, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich, 2000, 85 S. Bestellen bei
Balthus - Catalog Raisonné of the Complete Works by Virginie Monnier & Jean Clair, editors. Get it from or German edition: Balthus - Catalogue raisonné. Das Gesamtwerk. Hg. Virginie Monnier & Jean Clair Gebunden, Schirmer/Mosel, München, 2000, 574 S. Bestellen bei oder citydisc Schweiz.

Added on December 28, 2002: new book on and by Balthus: Vanished Splendors - A Memoir. Ecco (Harper Collins), 2002, 224 p. Get it from,,,, Amazon Canada.

The photographer Kishin Shinoyama was born in Tokyo in 1940. After a successful career in advertising, he began to work as an independent photographer in the early 1970s. Among his works are nudes, portraits, studies for the Japanese Kabuki theatre, photos of Tokyo's subculture and a important project about the Japanese house, which constituted the Japanese contribution to the Biennale in Venice in 1976. The photographs of the Grand Chalet in Rossinière were shot in the summer of 1993. Shinoyama's photos of the "inner sanctum", Balthus' atelier, which only a few close friends were allowed to see on rare occasions, are the book's highlight. It seems that it was the first time that Balthus exposed himself deliberately before a camera, but of course, most photos seem consciously staged.
Gero von Boehm was born in 1954. He studied law and social sciences in Heidelberg and New York. He worked as an independent collaborator for the German weekly Die Zeit, for the German radio and television. In 1978, he founded his own production company. He drafted and realized documentary films, portraits of artists such as Henri Matisse, Henri Moore, David Hockney, Ernst Jünger, Umberto Eco and Kurt Masur, scientific, social and cultural series for the television channels of ARD, ZDF and ARTE. In 1996, he shot the ZDF documentary film Balthus - Geheimnisse eines Malers.

added on February 22, 2001
Ten days before his 93rd birthday, the painter Balthus (1908-2001) died in his Grand Chalet in Rossinière, situated by the railroad line from Gstaad to Montreux, but at the same time far away from tourism. He leaves a relatively small body of works which includes some 350 paintings and about 1600 drawings.
Count Balthazar Klossowski de Rola was born in Paris in 1908 - doubts about his title as a "Count", on which he insisted, remain. He was the second son of the Polish art historian and painter with noble ancestors, Erich Klossowski, whose study of Honoré Daumier (1908) remains a work of reference until today. Balthus' mother was the painter Elizabeth Dorothea, called Baladine, maiden name Spiro, a Polish woman of the Jewish faith whose father was a cantor. Balthus' older brother is the writer and painter Pierre Klossowski.
In Paris, the parents of Balthus led one of the leading salons, frequented by artists like Pierre Bonnard, Paul Valéry and André Gide. In 1914, the Klossowskis moved from Paris to Berlin - they also were German nationals. After the separation from her husband, Baladine settled in Switzerland, first in Bern, then in Geneva. Two years later, she met the writer Rainer Maria Rilke, whose lover she became. It was Rilke who named the young  Balthazar "Baltusz".
In 1921, before he was 13, Balthazar's Mitsous - Quarante images par Baltusz was published, with a preface by Rilke. It was the story of the cat Mitsou, which ran towards Balthus and later disappeared again.
In 1921, Baladine moved with her two sons to her brother's in Berlin. Three years later, they traveled on to Paris again. In the French capital, Pierre Bonnard and Paul Denis advised Balthus to copy the paintings by Poussin at the Louvre - and that's what he did.

In 1926, Balthus spent part of the summer in Italy. In Arezzo and Borgo San Sepolcro, he copied the frescos and panel paintings by Piero della Francesca and in Florence the frescos by Masaccio and Masolino. The following year, in Paris, Balthus created his first independent paintings and drawings with scenes of the street and views of the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Jean Cocteau's novel Les enfants terribles (1929) is in its first chapters strongly inspired by the atmosphere Cocteau had experienced at the home of the Klossowkis. Balthus was also to recall the milieu later in his paintings: "Elegant, but warm. A little bit surreal."
In 1930 and 1931, Balthus served in the French military in Morocco. In 1932, he returned to Paris, where he created his illustrations for Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. He also met Pierre Jean Jouve and André Derain. In 1933, he opened an atelier at Rue de Furstemberg 4, where he created his two versions of La Rue. The painting hangs today in New York's Museum of Modern Art. In his childhood, Balthus had learnt to read with the help of a German governess. Influenced from that period, figures of the Struwwelpeter emerged in his paintings. At the same time, La Rue reflected the life in Saint Germain des Prés. Balthus frequented the cafés Les deux Magots and Flore.
In 1933, Balthus also worked on the stage set of Fledermaus in a production by Max Rheinhardt at the Théâtre Pigalle and, in the following year, the Parisian Galérie Pierre showed the first individual exhibition dedicated to the works of Balthus.
1934 was the year of La Leçon de guitare, the painting which caused a scandal at its exhibition in 1977 at the gallery Pierre Matisse in New York. It shows a female teacher holding a child in a compromising position on her lap. Pierre Matisse gave the work to the Museum of Modern Art; whether as an act of provocation or not remains unclear. At first, La Leçon de guitare was banished into the depot. Four years later, under the pressure of a member of the museum's board, Blanchette Rockefeller, it was returned to Matisse. Today, La Leçon de guitare belongs to the Niarchos', the Greek family of shipowners. In later years, Balthus acknowledged that he had intended to shock the public in the 1930s with his work, which is not among his best. Balthus almost seemed to wish to eradicate it from his complete works because he prohibited its reproduction.
In 1935 drafted the stage set and the costumes for Antonin Artauds Cenci. In 1936, he moved into a new atelier in the Cour de Rohan. In 1937, he married the Swiss Antoinette de Watteville, whom he had known since his childhood. It was the year in which James Thrall Soby bought his painting La Rue. In 1938, the New York gallery Pierre Matisse organized its first Balthus exhibition.

In the 1930s, Balthus met Alberto Giacometti whom he later called his best friend and consulted on all artistic matters. He also had contact with Diego Giacometti. Balthus' parents had been acquainted with the elder Giacomettis. Balthus traveled to the village of Stampa in the Swiss mountains where Alberto came from. At his Grand Chalet in Rossinière, Balthus possessed an Annette statute by Alberto (which can be seen on a photograph by Shinoyama).
In 1939, Balthus was conscripted into the military in the Alsace, but was released shortly afterwards. In 1940, he moved with Antoinette to Savoya, where he retreated in the estate of Champrovent near Aix-les-Bains. In 1941, Picasso bought Balthus' painting Les Enfants Blanchard. In 1942/43, Balthus returned to Switzerland, first to Bern, then to Fribourg, where his son Stanislas was born. He exhibited at the gallery Moos in Geneva. In 1944, his son Thadée was born. In 1945, the family moved into the Villa Diodati in Cologny near Geneva. Balthus met André Malraux. In 1946, he returned to Paris, where he had an exhibition at the gallery Beaux-Arts.
In 1948, Balthus drafted the stage set and the costumes for Albert Camus' L'Etat de Siège, in 1949 for Boris Kochno's Le peintre et son modèle and in 1950 for Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at the festival of Aix-en-Provence.
In 1953, Balthus, without means, settled at castle Chassy in Morvan where he drafted the stage set and the costumes for Ugo Betti's Delitto all'isola delle capre. In 1954, the financial support by a circle of friends consisting of collectors and art dealers permitted him a certain living standard.
In 1956, Balthus exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1960, he drafted the stage set for Jean-Louis Barrault's production of Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar.
In 1961, André Malraux, who had become a minister in De Gaulle's government, assigned him as director of the Académie de France at the Villa Medici in Rome. Until 1976, under Balthus' direction, the villa was restored, together with its park and the Palazzo Farnese to its original state. Invitations to the magnificent receptions at the Villa Medici were much sought-after.
In 1962, on a journey to Japan on a mission assigned by Malraux, Balthus met Setsuko Ideta, whom he married five years later. In 1968, their son Fumio was born, and died only two years later. In 1968, the Tate Gallery in London showed a Balthus retrospective. In 1973, his daughter Harumi (see the photo on the left) was born.
In 1977, Balthus left Rome and settled at the Grand Chalet in Rossinière, Switzerland, where he remained until his death. The Grand Chalet is an imposing four-storey building with over 100 windows constructed in 1754 by Jean David d'Henchoz, which had served as a hotel before Balthus' arrival. For him, it became the ideal set on which he could live out his passion for charades, disguise and staging. By the way, the painter could only afford to buy the Chalet with the help of Pierre Matisse who advanced him a large sum. For its upkeep as well as his representative lifestyle, which included a butler from the Phillipines, Balthus generally had to continuously sell the paintings he had finished.
In 1980, at the Venice Biennale, 26 works of Balthus were exhibited. In 1983/84, the Musée national d'art moderne Centre George Pompidou in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Municipal Museum of Art in Kyoto dedicated retrospectives to the artist. In 1996, a retrospective at Madrid's Centro de Arte Reina Sofia followed. In 1998, the University of Wroclaw (Breslau) bestowed an honorary doctorate on Balthus. In 2000, the Catalogue raisonné with Balthus' complete works was published.
Among Balthus' friends had been such famous contemporaries as Rilke, Picasso, Miró, Dalí, the Giacomettis, Braque and the film maker Federico Fellini. During his entire lifetime, Balthus had withstood all 20th century art currents such as Cubism and Surrealism. He remained faithful to figurative painting. Balthus considered himself an autodidact. Towards the end of his life, when his sight became worse, he moved away from portraiture towards landscape painting.
The opinions about Balthus body of work are divided. Most people consider him a singular person in the 20th century art world. Some add, not without reason, that a lot of his pictures are not so well crafted as his admirers pretend and that a lot of his works contain a strong dose of kitsch. Is Balthus the outstanding preserver of tradition or a mediocre painter who is only remarkable for sexual perversion and snobbery? Do his typical paintings of little girls testify to desires beyond the area of taboo or are they "untouchable archetypes of purity"? Balthus, who had staged his life, partly constructed his vita and surrounded himself with an aura of mystery, leaves art lovers and historians with a lot of riddles to solve.

Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
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 ©  Louis Gerber All rights reserved.