biography - in memoriam
Balthus at the Grand Chalet.
text Gero von Boehm. Get it from Amazon.com,
Das Haus des Malers
Balthus im Grand Chalet. Photographien Kishin Shinoyama,
Text Gero von Boehm. Gebunden, Schirmer/Mosel, Munich,
2000, 85 S. Bestellen bei Amazon.de.
the Complete Works
by Virginie Monnier &
Jean Clair, editors.
Get it from Amazon.com
German edition: Balthus
- Catalogue raisonné. Das Gesamtwerk. Hg.
Virginie Monnier & Jean Clair Gebunden, Schirmer/Mosel, München,
2000, 574 S.
Bestellen bei Amazon.de
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.com,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.