Fondation Beyeler Celebrates the Art of Balthus

August 24, 2018

An often stereotype that the artists are eccentric and reserved can be justified, yet it is rather an effect of the insufficient knowledge of certain artistic agendas and practices. Some form of performative behavior can be either an extension of someone's work or a radical gesture of declining canons of representation in the context of fame and recognition.

Such was the case with a peculiar figure of renown artist Balthus, who was one of the masters of the 20th century, yet somehow remained enigmatic and bizarre. Every attempt to reevaluate his several decades-long practice is more than worthy, so the upcoming retrospective at The Foundation Beyeler in Basel will provide a fresh insight into the artists complex and unique oeuvre.

Balthus - Thérèse
Balthus - Thérèse, 1938. Oil on cardboard on wood, 100.3 x 81.3 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequeathed by Mr. and Mrs. Allan D. Emil, in honor of William S. Lieberman, 1987 © Balthus, Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

A Mysterious Genius

Balthasar Klossowski or better known as Balthus was an astonishing painter who developed his impeccable aesthetic under a great influence of great masters of Renaissance, as well as the progressive artistic ideas expressed by family  friends such as André Gide, who mentored his older brother Pierre, and Jean Cocteau, who depicted the Klossowski family in scenes of his 1929 novel Les Enfants Terribles.

Balthus was either admired by some or discredited by others for his multilayered, complex and controversial approach. By embracing a marginal position, the artist distanced himself from modernism and uncompromisingly insisted on his specific practice which, looking from a contemporary distance, seems to be quite postmodern.

Balthus - La Partie De Cartes
Balthus - La Partie De Cartes, 1948 – 1950. Oil on canvas, 139.7 x 193.7 cm. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid © Balthus

Highlights of The Retrospective

Throughout the years, Balthus was strongly connected to Switzerland, since he spent part of his later childhood in Bern, Geneva, and Beatenberg, and was married to the Swiss aristocrat Antoinette de Watteville, with whom Balthus lived in the French and German-speaking parts of the country. Until his death, he lived in the Alpine village of Rossinière.

The focal point of the retrospective will be the grandiose painting Passage du Commerce-Saint-André, from 1952–1954. It perfectly embodies Balthus’ perception of the space, time and the figures in two-dimensional terms. Starting with this significant work, the exhibition will deliver a selection of fifty important pieces covering each phase of the artists’ oeuvre.

Balthus - Passage Du Commerce-Saint-André
Balthus - Passage Du Commerce-Saint-André, 1952–1954. Oil on canvas, 294 x 330 cm. Private Collection © Balthus. Photo: Mark Niedermann

Balthus at The Foundation Beyeler

The idea behind the exhibition seems to be led by the intention to display and articulate properly the meaning of Balthus’ provocative images, but also the elements of humor and mystery. The narratives inhabiting his paintings are filled with tension and can be perceived as surreal images of the gaps between reality and illusion, innocence an eroticism.

This will be the first survey of Balthus' art in a Swiss museum since 2008 and the first comprehensive presentation of his work anywhere in German-speaking Switzerland. The show is curated by Raphaël Bouvier and Michiko Kono and would not be possible without the generous support of the artist's family.

The exhibition Balthus at The Foundation Beyeler in Basel will be on view from September 2nd, 2018 until January 1st, 2019. After that, the exhibition will travel to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.

Featured image: Balthus - La Partie De Cartes, 1948 – 1950, detail. Oil on canvas, 139.7 x 193.7 cm. Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid © Balthus

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