Balthus, born Balthasar Klossowski (1908 - 2001), had a penchant for painting young girls and cats. The Met's exhibition, Balthus: Cats and Girls — Paintings and Provocations, showcases 34 of his beautifully moody paintings featuring the two subjects. The "Provocations" part of the exhibit's title refers to the criticism the artist often received and continues to receive for the sexual undertones some of his work suggests.
The first gallery features a terrific series of charming, early (between 1936-39) portraits Balthus completed of Therese Blanchard, his young neighbor in Paris. With short, pinned back hair and melancholy eyes, Therese poses with deadpan, indifferent expressions (a whatever kind of expression for today's kids). In Therese Dreaming (1938), the young girl is presented sitting stiffly on a chair, eyes closed, hands resting atop her head, while her left leg is propped up onto the seat of the chair revealing white panties under her red skirt. Below her, a cream-colored kitty happily laps milk from a bowl. The most provocative of the Therese images displayed, the image is followed in the subsequent galleries by the more blatant Nude with Cat (1949) and The Golden Days (1944-46) featuring a young girl coquettishly lying on a chaise lounge admiring herself in a handheld mirror while a shirtless(?) man tends to a nearby fireplace.
The highlight of the exhibition is the gallery featuring 40 small ink drawings completed by Balthus in 1919 at the age of eleven. Never-before exhibited, the adorable drawings tell the tale of a young Balthus finding and taking in a stray cat, whom he called Mitsou, when he was ten. The series takes us through their first encounter, their time together playing, and the cat's staying by the young boy's side when he falls ill, to Mitsou's mysterious disappearance and the boy's desperate and failed attempts to find her. The final image of the series shows the young Balthus crying inconsolably. The impressive drawings were published in 1921 by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who rumor has it, was Balthus' mother's lover.
Though the Met does provide a warning that viewers may find some of the exhibition's content disturbing, Balthus: Cats and Girls is worth seeing—especially for his wonderful portraits of Therese Blanchard and charming drawings of Mitsou. Learn more at metmuseum.org and see a slideshow at blouinartinfo.com. Closes January 12th.
(Since Balthus: Cats and Girls is a special exhibition, I was not allowed to take pictures.)
Screen grab taken from blouinartinfo.com