Recto Signed with monogram lower left “Bs.”
11 13/16”x 17 13/16” (30 x 45.3 cm); framed 211/2 “ x 27 3/16” (54.8 x 69 cm)
Provenance: Frédérique Tison, Château de Chassy (Burgundy-Franche Comté - France)
Bibliography: J. Clair, V. Monnier Balthus, catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre complet, Gallimard, Paris 1999 - number D956 reproduced in black and white (page 304) for the recto.
Related works (for the recto):
• Another preparatory study (pencil on cardboard – 37.7 x 65.7 cm) is listed in the catalogue raisonné as D955
• La Bergerie, oil on canvas signed and dated "Balthus 57-60", size 50 x 101.5 cm, listed in the catalogue raisonné as P303
While living at the Château de Chassy in the Morvan, Balthus painted a large canvas entitled "La Bergerie" between 1957 and 1960, for which he had previously made this masterly ink study. This painting was to be one of his last works at Chassy, as, in 1961, Balthus was appointed Director of the Villa Medici in Rome. The reverse side of this study holds a surprise for us: another ink wash probably done after his move to Rome, which evokes his trip to Japan in 1962. During this trip, Balthus met Setsuko Ideta, a young Japanese woman who was to become his wife in 1967...
1. The stay at Chassy, a key stage in Balthus' life
Balthus occupies a special place in 20th century art, which is often marked by the legacy of Marcel Duchamp or turned towards abstraction. Balthus on the contrary presents a figurative work, based on rigorous drawing and characterized by his ability to master form through meticulous construction. The work attracts and the artist disconcerts; there is somewhat of a "Balthus mystery", largely maintained and staged by the artist himself. During his lifetime, his work was the subject of numerous exhibitions organised in the world's greatest museums (at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1966, at the Tate Gallery in London in 1968, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1983-1984, and at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 2001, to name but a few).
Balthus was born on 29 February 1908 into a cosmopolitan family; his father was of Prussian and Polish origin and his mother, Elsa Dorothea Spiro, nicknamed Baladine, was of Ashkenazi and Russian descent. At the beginning of the war, his family took refuge in Switzerland, where he stayed with his mother while his parents separated. In 1919, his mother met the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926) who became her lover; Balthus (the nickname of the painter from which he chose his artist's name) was brought up in the artistic milieu of his mother's friends.
Balthus moved to Paris with his mother in 1924. He enrolled at the Grande Chaumière academy and frequented Pierre Bonnard's studio. In 1926, he travelled to Italy where he discovered the frescoes of Piero della Francesca and Masaccio, which had a lasting influence on his art. Influenced by the surrealists, he held his first solo exhibition in 1934. Alongside his paintings, which were increasingly successful, he created several theatre, ballet and opera sets, an activity he continued after the war. In 1938, he held his first exhibition in New York.
He married Antoinette de Watteville (1912-1997) in 1937, and, during the war, the couple moved to Switzerland. Their two sons were born there. In 1945 the couple separated and Balthus returned to Paris.
In 1953, Balthus, then aged 45, decided to move to the Château de Chassy in the Morvan region. He was soon joined there by his niece by marriage (the daughter of his brother Pierre Klossowski's wife from her first marriage), Frédérique Tison, who became his muse and mistress. At Chassy, facing the landscapes of the Morvan, in the spacious house, Balthus worked and created a huge number of works. His painting evolved to become closer to the fresco, in the manner of the Italian Renaissance masters.
Frédérique Tison accompanied Balthus to Rome when he was appointed Director of the Villa Medici by André Malraux in 1961. When they finally broke up in 1966, Balthus gave her Chassy where she settled. In 1962, during a trip to Japan, Balthus met Setsuko Ideta. She became his wife in 1967. In 1977, at the end of their time in Rome, they settled in a large chalet in Rossinière (Switzerland) where the painter lived until his death on 18 February 2001.
2. La Bergerie: description of the artwork
Balthus’ artworks were sought after very early on in his career. Most of his drawings were executed in the preparatory phase of large paintings. For example, this drawing is a study for La Bergerie (50 x 101.5 cm), a large canvas painted between 1957 and 1960.
The comparison between the two preparatory studies and the final composition is very instructive. With two vertical lines framing the scene, our drawing seems to have been taken on the spot, in motion, like a landscape seen from the window of a car or a train. This moving spontaneity is further reinforced by the undulations of the two lines of trees and of the hills in the distance. A horizontal line sketched on the right announces the elongated framing of the final composition, making the grove of trees in the foreground disappear.
Our drawing is probably a first draft of the composition, while the other preparatory drawing was probably made at a later stage, once the composition was clearer. While the final painting seems static and timeless, the vigour of this study lies in the virtuoso use of ink wash, with which the landscape is lightly sketched, as if to allow each of us to project the memory of a familiar landscape.
3. On the reverse, a radically different work
A surprise is to be found on the back of this sheet: in a radically different style, Balthus has drawn the profile of a young Japanese woman accompanied by four flowers, of which the most accomplished on the right could be a camellia.
Although the reverse is not listed in the Catalogue Raisonné, it seems quite likely to us that this drawing is also by Balthus. The profile of the Japanese woman is very close to a pencil drawing made in 1963 (D 1000 in the Catalogue Raisonné), while the flowers are reminiscent of Fleurs et Grenade (D 1044 in the Catalogue Raisonné), a watercolour and pencil drawing made in 1964.
This drawing takes on a very special dimension in the work of Balthus: literally turning the page on his stay in Chassy, Balthus discovers with wonder the Japanese culture, which will play such an important role in the end of his life through the presence of Setsuko Ideta.
We have chosen to frame this double-sided drawing in a 17th century Italian walnut frame which allows the picture to be viewed on either side. A walnut inner frame holds the drawing sheet and its mount on the back and can easily be opened to change the direction of the sheet if necessary.
Main bibliographic reference :
J. Clair, V. Monnier Balthus, catalogue raisonné of the complete works, Gallimard, Paris 1999
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