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Obituaries

Balthus; French Artist Was Known for Paintings of Adolescent Girls

February 19, 2001|CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT | TIMES ART CRITIC

Artaud praised the painting's formal composition and evocation of unfathomable, sphinx-like figures. Albert Camus later described looking at "The Street" as being like "gazing through glass at people petrified by some kind of enchantment, not forever, but for a split second, after which they will resume their movements."

The following year, Balthus exhibited a group of overtly erotic paintings, in which the subject of adolescent and pubescent girls was prominent. He continued to work with the subject for many years.

Through his friendship with Artaud, Balthus also became interested in designing theatrical stage sets, culminating in 1950 with a well-received production of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte." He also began a series of portraits in the late 1930s, the most notable being portraits of fellow painters Andre Derain and Joan Miro.

In 1961, French minister of culture Andre Malraux appointed Balthus director of the French Academy in Rome, where he remained until his retirement in 1977. During his tenure, he renovated and restored the Villa Medici, where the academy is housed, and its elaborate gardens. He also traveled in Japan, where a young woman named Setsuko Ideta became first his model and later his second wife. Stanislas and Thadee, his two grown sons by Antoinette de Watteville, whom he had married in 1937, were joined in 1973 by a daughter, Harumi.

Balthus' production slowed to a crawl during his years in Rome, and after his retirement he lived mainly in seclusion in Switzerland.

Balthus showed periodically at New York's Pierre Matisse Gallery. His work was the subject of a 1956 retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and solo shows were held at London's Tate Gallery (1968), Paris' Centre Georges Pompidou (1983) and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (1984). A survey of more than 60 drawings was mounted at the Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Santa Monica in 1999.

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