Monday, October 28, 2013

Balthus at the Met

Mediterranean Cat, 1949 (detail)

While visiting the Met a few weeks ago,
we chanced upon  "Cats and Girls",
a current show spanning 25 years
(c. 1935-1960)
in the career of Balthasar Klossowski.

King of Cats, 1935

He was a lonely, sensitive Polish aristocrat
who grew up in the world of art
and happened to have a great  talent for it.

Solitaire, 1943

Girl with Cat, 1937

Above, are the two pieces I know best
since they've  hung in the Art Institute for more than 20 years.
where they were the only reason
I ever visited its galleries of contemporary art.

Even though they're a bit creepy -
i.e. something is wrong
with so much attention
paid to one who is so young
and feels so vulnerable.

He doesn't paint happy or beautiful children,
which are really the only kind I want to see.

Frans Hals, 1625

I just don't think that adults
should be looking up the dresses of young girls
until they're old enough to fend for themselves.

But.... creepiness, as well as Sadism,
 is part of human nature
and it seems to be the job of 20th C.
 art and psychology
to show us our dark side.

The Victim, 1938

This painting has been something of a puzzle,
as it moves from voyeurism to tragedy.

Perhaps it's a response
to what was happening to a Europe
caught between the Soviet and Nazi empires.

Or maybe it just makes explicit
what the other paintings have been suggesting.

Obviously, he identifies with the
predatory nature of cats.

The happy girl on the boat
will become the dead fish on the plate.

The Moth, 1959

But over the years covered in this show
it does seem that the artist outgrew
his fascination with school girls' panties,
and matured into a taste
for young adults without any clothes at all.

Nude with Cat, 1949

Figure in front of a Mantel, 1955

And we've moved from a sordid darkness
into a celebration of light

Girl at the Window, 1955

This was my favorite painting in the show.

Happily, he's sharing the wonders of being young
rather than licking his lips
like a hungry cat.


there were several paintings
in every gallery of the show,
that felt like murky disasters.

But that does suggest
that he was taking risks
and painting for himself
rather than the market.


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