TRIBUTE TO BALTHUS
Rarefied atmospheres, almost suspended in time, pervade the masterpieces by this great 20th-century artist, celebrated in an anthology at the Fondation Beyeler
By Benedetta Bernasconi
A life story worthy of a novel. To start with, he was a descendent of Lord Byron, the owner of a number of splendid houses, a friend of Federico Fellini and Rainer Maria Rilke, and much admired by Pablo Picasso, who described him as “the greatest modern artist”. Flattery to which Count Balthasar Klossowski de Rola (1908 − 2001), alias Balthus, replied exasperatedly: “Balthus is a painter of whom nothing is known. Now let us look at the pictures”. Indeed, his works are exceptional and feature at the heart of what looks set to be an unmissable retrospective. Open from 2 September 2018 to 1 January 2019 at the Fondation Beyeler, the fifty artworks look back over the career of the French artist, an irreverent iconoclast of the 20th-century avant-garde movements, who wanted to be judged solely for his work. The outcome is a gallery of portraits veiled with a subtle eroticism, in which provocative women and seductive Lolitas alternate with crowded scenes. It is one of these that really stands out in the Swiss museum: Passage du Commerce-Saint
André, an extra-large canvas that reproduces the theatre of everyday life, in which some children are playing, an old
man watches them tiredly, while a young girl directs a severe gaze towards the viewer. The artist conveys his talent through light brushstrokes, producing a sensation of suspended time, within which the figures appear to be “frozen” in an enchantment. An antagonist of modern art, Balthus’s greatest love was Renaissance painting, drawing inspiration for his compositions, narrative style and inimitable palette from Piero della Francesca. This reference is explicit in Thé
rèse, a superb portrait of his young neighbour, immortalised with soft lines that refer to classical stylistic features: the sleeves of her tailored jacket drawn up to uncover her forearms, her languid hand resting on her knee and her disinterested, almost bored expression; a snapshot that captures a fleeting moment, before the magic dissolves. This is how Balthus stages his realism, always poised between dream and reality, sensuality and innocence, calm and agitation. These constant contradictions feature in every work. He was an artist who succeeded in capturing the spirit of the age in the ongoing drive to reveal new forms of beauty.