Balthus and Be­yond

The widow of Balthus talks of life with the artist and her own cre­ative work

Hong Kong Tatler - - Concierge -

or the first time in two decades, work by the late Pol­ish-french pain­ter Balthus, known for a dis­tinc­tive style that blends mod­ern and clas­si­cal in­flu­ences, is be­ing ex­hib­ited in Hong Kong. Gagosian Gallery’s show, which runs un­til Au­gust 15, in­cludes paint­ings, draw­ings and pho­to­graphs span­ning the reclu­sive artist’s ca­reer. Balthus’ widow, Ja­panese-born Countess Set­suko Klos­sowska de Rola, vis­ited Hong Kong for the open­ing. De Rola her­self is an artist, with an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of paint­ings, ce­ram­ics, ki­mono de­signs and writ­ten works. She and Balthus spent years work­ing to­gether at the French Academy in Rome, housed in the his­toric Villa Medici, be­fore set­tling in Switzer­land. Ap­pointed a Unesco Artist for Peace in 2005, De Rola is honorary pres­i­dent of the Balthus Foun­da­tion, which she founded with her hus­band in 1998 to en­sure his legacy lives on. The foun­da­tion op­er­ates out of their for­mer home, The Grand Chalet in Rossinière, Switzer­land.

How does it feel be­ing in Hong Kong?

My first time vis­it­ing Hong Kong was in 1962. I was a stu­dent at Sophia Univer­sity in Tokyo, and they or­gan­ised a cul­tural ex­change with the coun­tries that were un­der French con­trol— Cam­bo­dia, Laos, Viet­nam. Twelve of us, boys and girls, trav­elled by boat, and the first stop was Hong Kong. Later that year, I met Balthus for the first time. Hong Kong was a sort of first step in leav­ing Ja­pan.

What was it like to meet Balthus?

I didn’t know he was fa­mous when I first met him. Be­cause, at Villa Medici, there weren’t any of his paint­ings on the wall. And he didn’t want to talk about him­self. He’s very dis­creet. He even called him­self a pain­ter and an ar­ti­san— not an artist.

You were some­times Balthus’ sub­ject. Are any pieces par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant?

Once Balthus be­gan to work on his paint­ing, he didn’t want to move. We didn’t travel ex­cept for rare oc­ca­sions. I would think it was a pity that we couldn’t. But then he made La Cham­bre Turque (The Turk­ish Room), a huge nude pho­to­graph of me, into a stamp, a tiny stamp. So I said, it’s al­right, in­stead of trav­el­ling around, my stamp can travel all over the world. In a way, I’ve been to places that I’ve never known.

What led you to mak­ing art?

I’ve loved draw­ing since my child­hood but I never thought to be­come a pain­ter. I met Balthus when I was very young—20 years old—and he was the di­rec­tor of the French Academy in Rome. I was sur­rounded by artists, so if we went to the coun­try­side, ev­ery­body took their sketch­books. It was so nor­mal, so I took one too. I be­came a pain­ter nat­u­rally.

That’s a beau­ti­ful ki­mono you’re wear­ing.

I de­sign ki­monos. They are very dif­fer­ent from Euro­pean fash­ion. In Euro­pean fash­ion, you change the form. Miniskirts, long skirts, big sleeves. In Ja­pan, the form of ki­mono doesn’t change. It came from China, our mother cul­ture, and be­came in­stilled with our own cre­ativ­ity. But the prin­ci­pal cut has been the same from the be­gin­ning; it hasn’t changed for cen­turies. That’s the rea­son why there’s such an ex­tra­or­di­nary va­ri­ety in all the weav­ing and dec­o­ra­tions—be­cause the form never changed.

Are more ex­hi­bi­tions planned?

There will be a big Balthus ex­hi­bi­tion in Rome this au­tumn, and early next spring in Vi­enna. And I have an ex­hi­bi­tion in Ja­pan this au­tumn. I will show paint­ings, ce­ram­ics, ta­ble set­tings, ki­monos and other hand­i­work.

artist and muse From top: Countess Set­suko Klos­sowska de Rola at Gagosian Gallery; Olivier, a ce­ramic sculp­ture cre­ated by De Rola

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