(1908 - 2001)
O último dos clássicos, o Conde Balthazar Klossowski de Rola, conhecido por Balthus, faleceu no dia 17 de Fevereiro de 2001 no seu chalet de montanha em Rossiniére, na Suiça. Iria completar 93 anos no dia 29 de Fevereiro seguinte.
Nasceu em Paris em 1908. A sua família era de origem
polaca. Tem sido considerado até hoje um dos grandes patriarcas da arte do
século XX, um dos pouquíssimos, por exemplo, que teve o privilégio de expôr
ainda vivo as suas obras no Museu do Louvre.
Cresceu em contacto com os grandes pintores e escritores
do seu tempo (Cezanne, Matisse, Mirò, Camus), viveu na Inglaterra e na Suiça e,
quando visitou a Itália, nasceu a sua paixão pela arte do Renascimento. A sua
primeira exposição teve lugar em Paris em 1934 e logo demonstrou a profunda
influência na sua pintura dos pintores renascentistas, em especial de Piero
Depois da guerra, Balthus regressou a Paris e aqui criou
as obras mais grandiosas em que se inspirou na vida citadina. Em 2954, mudou-se
para Chassy e experimentou novos temas ligados ao contacto com a terra. São
deste período as paisagens, as naturezas mortas, os interiores. Em 1961, foi-lhe
oferecida a direcção da Academia de França, em Roma. Balthus aceitou e
permaneceu em Roma mais de 15 anos, tendo também orientado o restauro de Villa
Desde 1977, o artista vivia num antigo chalet restaurado
em Rossinière, na Cantão suiço de Vaud, com a sua segunda mulher Setsuko, de
origem japonesa. Ali continuou Balthus a pintar com a mesma lucidez de sempre.
Balthus, que o seu amigo Federico Fellini definia como um “acumular de história” gostava de repetir: “Sempre que dou o toque final numa pintura, tenho a impressão que ao fazê-lo, terei esquecido tudo o que sabia da minha arte e que teria de inventar tudo de novo...”
|Balthazar Klossowski de Rola, known as Balthus, French painter. From a highly cultivated family background, he began painting at the age of sixteen. He met Rilke - who wrote the preface for a collection of his drawings - and Bonnard, who was a strong influence on him up to 1930. It was at this time that the characteristics of his style became fixed: a convinced figurative artist and opposed to all forms of abstraction, his draughtsmanship is incisive and of great precision. He produced matte paintings, in muted tones, founded on strict observation and internalization of things and people.In 1933, The Street caught the attention of the Surrealists because of its strange, almost dreamlike atmosphere: all the figures seem indifferent to one another and carve up the space into a series of continuous private worlds. Even if he was at that time associated with Artaud (he did the sets for his Cenci) and with Giacometti, Balthus refused to call on an imaginary world in any way.||
In fact his pre-war painting is closer to realism and Neue Sachlichkeit, if not indeed to Courbet (The Mountain, 1937). After 1945, his painting became denser, while his subject-matter changed. The nude made its appearance and, in particular, adolescent girls caught sleeping or in equivocal private moments - half-way between innocence and perversity. But the rigorous composition and slow execution remained unchanged (Balthus would happily spend years on a single canvas, and go on to produce variants). He kept too the love of his craft, admiring Piero della Francesca and oriental painting, in which he discovered examples of work concerned not with realistic representation but with 'identification'. In his canvases, time is frozen, the traffic of life is stilled, gestures are suspended before they can declare their purpose: the scene is there to be uncovered by anyone who can find mystery in the anodyne. 'We did not know how to see reality and all the disturbing things our apartments, our loved ones and our streets conceal,' wrote Albert Camus in 1949 in the preface to one of Balthus's rare exhibitions. Yet the painter lamented the loss of craft among his contemporaries - virtually the only exceptions being Bonnard, Braque and Rouan (whom he had met, in fact, at the Villa Medici, of which he was director from 1961 to 1977). He deplored, too, the fact that painting so often became an occasion for discussion, while for him it remained quite irreducible to any language."
For the last 30 years of his long life, Balthus was among the most widely admired of European painters. He had excelled as a portraitist (notably of his painter colleagues André Derain and Joan Miró), as a painter of French landscapes in a tradition that went back to Nicolas Poussin, and as someone who had given a whole new spin to the notion of Parisian townscape.
When painting still lifes, he could stress the violence implicit in the presence of hammer and knife among the apparatus of everyday activities. (It was not for nothing that in Paris he was a close friend of Antonin Artaud, proponent of the "theater of cruelty.") He could depict a game of cards as a pastime with overtones of desperation.
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The Golden Days
(Les Beaux Jours), 1944–46
In Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights," he found inspiration in 1934 and '35 for a long series of drawings, more than one of which rivaled the singular mood of Brontë herself in its portrayal of a frenetic wooing between young people.
But above all, Balthus was known for paintings of equivocal figure subjects, very young women in poses or situations that were regarded as enigmatic or suggestive or both. Often these subjects were caught between dream and waking. Sometimes there were more explicitly sexual elements, and these caused a minor scandal as early as 1934, when he had his first one-man show at the Galerie Pierre in Paris.
Though never wholly discarded, the element of erotic provocation became more oblique in his later work. ("I used to want to shock," he once told a friend, "but now it bores me.") In 1955, he even agreed to tone down an erotic incident in "The Street" (1933), a painting that had been bought by James Thrall Soby, one of his earliest American admirers, who later bequeathed it to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.
"I really don't understand why people see the paintings of girls as Lolitas," he told the chief art critic of The New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, in 1996. "My little model is absolutely untouchable to me. Some American journalist said he found my work pornographic. What does he mean? Everything now is pornographic. Advertising is pornographic. You see a young woman putting on some beauty product who looks like she's having an orgasm. I've never made anything pornographic. Except perhaps `The Guitar Lesson.' "
That large painting, exhibited in the 1934 show at the Galerie Pierre, depicts a girl naked below the waist and slumped over the knees of a bare-breasted woman, who evidently is her teacher. A guitar is on the floor and a piano is in the background. But the figure of the girl, it has been pointed out, most directly echoes the dead Christ in the 15th-century Avignon Pietà in the Louvre; it's a link, it has been argued, that by its blasphemy heightens the shock.
"I absolutely never thought of that, never," Balthus protested in the 1996 interview. "I'm Catholic. I'm a member of the Order of St. Maurice and St. Lazare!"
Among painters, poets, novelists, theater people and fashionable hostesses in Paris, Balthus never ceased to be admired as an artist and sought out as a companion. But after the scandal of 1934 he did not have another exhibition in Paris until after World War II.
From his school days onward, Balthus was drawn to the apple-green uplands of the Bernese Oberland. That fascination found apotheosis in 1937 in the large painting "The Mountain," which is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Against a jagged and rocky backdrop, three young people, locked in daydreams of their own devising, act out their notions of what life may have in store for them.
It was not in Paris but in New York, at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1938, that Balthus showed his work in great strength and began to be sought after by American collectors and museums. From 1938 to 1977, his eight exhibitions at the gallery were major events in the New York art world, as were his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1956 and the major retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1984.
Balthus never came to the United States, and for most of his life he lived either in Paris or in a succession of increasingly grand and often remote country houses in France, Switzerland and Italy. Even in Paris, he loved an august association and lived in a house in the Cour de Rohan that was once described as "carved out of the huge vine-clad masonry of Philippe-Auguste's fortifications."
A house that suited him very well was the Château de Chassy, in the mountainous Morvan region in east-central France, where he lived from 1953 onward. In the paintings of that period, he brought a contemplative majesty to both outdoor and indoor life. There is in the big Chassy landscapes something of the four "Seasons" (in the Louvre) in which Poussin commemorated the rightness of nature and the presence in all natural things of a predestined order.
Balthus's basically reclusive way of life was transformed in 1961, when at the invitation of André Malraux, then France's minister of culture, he became director of the French Academy in Rome.
Among his predecessors in the post were Ingres and Berlioz. One of the great European town houses, the Villa Medici, went with the job. The architecture had Michelangelesque echoes, but the interior had badly deteriorated over generations of institutional use. During his 16 years of residence, Balthus restored an uncluttered nobility to the interior and made the 18-acre gardens look as they did when Velázquez painted them.
In these restorations, almost as much as in the paintings on which he was working at the same time, a creativity peculiar to himself was at work.
It was in the hallowed studios in the gardens of the Villa Medici that Balthus worked with a new medium (casein tempera on canvas) to produce the series of endlessly worked and reworked figure paintings that won him a whole new reputation. Many of them featured a young Japanese woman, Setusuko Ideta, whom he had met in Japan in 1962 and wed in 1967 after his first marriage had ended in divorce. He would work on some of these paintings for 6, 7 or even 10 years.
Sometimes he would speak of them as "utter failures, without exception" that had been not so much "finished" as given up in despair. But like his friend the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, he disliked the very notion of "finish" in art.
After leaving Rome in 1977, Balthus, his wife and their daughter, Harumi, settled in a chalet near Gstaad. He is survived by his wife and daughter; two sons, Stanislas and Thaddeus, from his first marriage; and a brother, Pierre Klossowski, a painter and writer.
At a time when the School of Paris was generally thought to be in decline, Balthus kept his position as a major European artist. Full-scale retrospectives were held at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 1966, at the Tate Gallery in London in 1968, at the Venice Biennale in 1980 and at the Spoleto Festival in Italy in 1982. After his work was exhibited in "A New Spirit in Painting" at the Royal Academy in London 1981, Balthus was invited to become a foreign member of the Academy. He had a major museum retrospective in Lausanne in 1993 and a lesser but significant exhibition of his drawings in Bern in 1994.
Balthasar Klossowski was the second son of Erich Klossowski, a Polish-born art historian, painter and stage designer, and his wife, Elisabeth Dorothea Spiro, a painter who exhibited under the name Baladine. For political reasons, his family had left Poland in 1830 and eventually settled in Breslau, acquiring German citizenship there.
Balthus's father made a name for himself in each of his activities, especially as the author of a comprehensive study of the work of Honoré Daumier. His maternal grandfather was a cantor in Breslau and composed a great deal of music for religious services.
In 1903 the family moved to Paris, mixing freely and happily in the worlds of painting, scholarship, poetry, theater and publishing there. Balthus was born on Feb. 29, 1908. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once told him that being born on leap day was like slipping through a crack in time; it gave Balthus access to "a kingdom independent of all the changes we undergo."
At the outbreak of World War I, the Klossowskis' status as enemy aliens caused them to move to Berlin, where they lived in straitened circumstances. As of 1917, Balthus's parents lived apart, and Balthus moved to Switzerland with his mother. They had a tiny apartment in Geneva, and Balthus spent summers above the Lake of Thun in a landscape to which he always returned with great pleasure.
In 1919, Balthus's mother was befriended by Rilke, the foremost German poet of the day. Until his death in 1926, Rilke had an intense and continuous relationship with her and her two sons. In 1921, Rilke wrote a French text for the publication of "Mitsou," a book of 40 ink drawings by the 13-year-old Balthus on the subject of a solitary boyhood. In its way a trial run for ideas that were to haunt Balthus's work for many years, the little book was described by the eminent German publisher Kurt Wolff as "astounding and almost frightening."
It was also thanks largely to Rilke that when Balthus went to Paris at the age of 16 in 1924, many doors were open to him. He was welcomed by André Gide, the most influential writer of the day, and by Pierre Bonnard, Albert Marquet and Maurice Denis among painters. When Rilke came to Paris for five months in 1925, he dedicated his new poem, "Narcisse," to Balthus. In 1926, with financial help from Rilke, Balthus spent a year traveling in Italy, where he made copies and sketches after Piero della Francesca, Masaccio, Masolino and others.
Thereafter he spent much of his time in Paris, where he became friendly with Braque, Derain and Giacometti among artists, with Pierre Jean Jouve, Malraux and Paul Éluard among writers, and with Jean-Louis Barrault, Madeleine Renaud and others in the theater.
Balthus married Antoinette de Watteville in Bern in 1937. In 1939, he was called up for service in the French Army and served near Saarbrücken before being discharged in December 1939. After the collapse of France to German forces, he and his wife lived on a farm in the French Savoie until 1942, when they moved to Switzerland and lived for some time in Fribourg.
While waiting to return to Paris at war's end, Balthus lived for some time in the Villa Diodati, near Geneva, where Lord Byron had once lived. Balthus liked to fantasize about a supposed family connection between himself and Byron.
After the death of his father in 1949 and of his mother in 1969, Balthus took advantage of what he believed to be his ancient and noble Polish lineage and asked to be called the Comte de Rola.
Despite a lifelong horror of being photographed or interviewed, he became more accessible in his later years, though still deeply concerned with his privacy. He once said about himself, "Balthus is a painter about whom nothing is known." The often-quoted statement implied that whatever people thought they knew about him or his work was wrong.
By JOHN RUSSELL
By Balthus as told to Alain Vircondelet.
Translated by Benjamin Ivry.
Illustrated. 237 pp. New York: Ecco/HarperCollinsPublishers. $29.95.
|Read this review here|
Erotic works in ethereal
Balthus paints his art in terms of angels in memoir
Sunday, January 12, 2003
By Balthus; as told to Alain Vircondolet; translated by Benjamin Ivry; introduction by Joyce Carol Oates
ECCO PRESS; 237 PAGES; $29.95
|Read this review here|
November 28, 1999, Sunday
BOOK REVIEW DESK
By Nicholas Fox Weber.
Illustrated. 644 pp. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf. $40.
|Read this review here|
By HOLLAND COTTER
By Balthus. As told to Alain Vircondelet. Translated by Benjamin Ivry.
237 pages. Ecco/HarperCollins. $29.95.
|Read this review here|
Jan. 10, 2003, 11:04AM
Memoir reveals enigmatic man, thoughtful painter
By NORA SETON
By Balthus, as told to Alain Vircondelet.
Ecco, $29.95; 272 pp.
|Read this review here|
|Read it here|