30 january, 1996 - 1 april, 1996 /
Sabatini Building, Floor 1
Balthus. The Card Game, 1948-1950. Oil on canvas. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Balthus. The Card Game, 1948-1950. Oil on canvas. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola) (Paris, 1908-Rossinière, Switzerland, 2001), insists on retaining his biographical anonymity, while acknowledging that his style is made up of a combination of different sources and influences: literature (Rainer Maria Rilke, André Gide, Victor Segalen), Renaissance painting (Giotto, Piero della Francesca) and late-impressionism (Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne and Pierre Bonnard). This exhibition - for which over one hundred works, including oils, drawings, watercolours and lithographs have been collected - allows us to get closer to an artist who historiography depicts as a painter who does not comply with any classification. Balthus' career runs parallel to the movements that marked his time although some overlaps in them can be seen, such as the geometric austerity in the furniture that make up the scenes in his paintings and his preference for an illusionistic space of Renaissance remnants and even Cubism.

Self-taught, Balthus is a figurative painter and a unique landscape artist who combines lessons from Trecento with a geometric essential and in-depth cezanesque views present in works such as Paysage à Chassy (1954) or Grand Paysage à l'arbre (1960). During his career different periods are not obvious, but there are timid evolutions in the reiteration of the main themes, which translate into greater proximity or involvement with the subject being painted. In this way, this proximity to the subject is evident in his nude paintings, such as Nu au chat (1949), in the scenes of youth indoors, like in Portrait d'une jeune femme en jupe d'amazone (1932-1981) and Jeune fille lisant (1957), as well as in the scenes of grooming, leisure or reading, seen in Le salon (1942) and Les Trois Soeurs (1960-1965).

You can also see the attachment to this chosen theme in his still lifes and portraits, as manifested in Joan Miró et sa fille Dolores (1937-1938) and in Portrait de la Baronne Alain de Rothschild (1958). However, his ability to give the compositions an atmosphere of mystery whose tension suggests an unimaginable tragedy is taking place, is characteristic and invariable.

Balthus roots himself in the painting tradition of the Italian and French as his desire is to paint, not create fashion. For this he uses an oil technique that tries to give the appearance of a fresco painting, as evidenced by Fille à sa toilette. Grand un vert (1952-1953). According to Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz, curator of the exhibition together with Jean Leymarie, "he unconsciously focuses his work as a revolution not only against surrealism but against all forms of academic formalism." The metaphoric and symbolic scenarios of his paintings come from real life: their ancient and aristocratic villas, Italy and Japan as a source of models (his second wife Setsuko, his neighbours’ daughters), furniture and ornaments, such as a Sardinian carpet as how it is revealed in pieces like La chambre turque (1963-1966) and Nu à la guitare (1983-1986). Transferred to canvas, Balthus gives to all of these reasons and characters a patina that condenses his particular symbolic interpretation on childhood, life, the softness of sleep and detention of time.

Exhibition´s details

Organized by: 
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Jean Leymarie and Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz
Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola)