Balthus: Cats and Girls

Sabine Rewald. Metropolitan Museum of Art (Yale Univ., dist.), $45 (192p) ISBN 978-0-300-19701-3
Accompanying an exhibition at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art that opens in September 2013, this captivating catalogue focuses on French painter Balthus (aka Balthasar Klossowski, 1908–2001) and his obsession with childhood and the pubescent girls who modeled for his best-known works. Veteran Balthus scholar Rewald, a curator of modern and contemporary art at the Met, lucidly provides both the biographical and art-historical context for Balthus’s young subjects, whom he often depicted in gawky poses that heighten the tension between their innocence and looming puberty. Balthus vehemently denied the work’s eroticism. The girls are typically accompanied by smug cats—possibly erotic symbols and perhaps “a stand-in for the artist.” Cats had been a theme of Balthus’s since his childhood; at age 11, he completed 40 ink sketches of a stray he called Mitsou, and published the sketches with the support of poet Rainer Maria Rilke; they are splendidly reproduced here. Rewald describes Balthus’s childhood with his eccentric mother, Baladine, as withdrawn from conventional life and makes well-founded analogies to Lewis Carroll’s photographs, and literary works such as Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles. The catalogue is further enriched by Rewald’s interviews with Balthus’s models, though Thérèse Blanchard, perhaps the most mysterious model, died at age 25. Balthus devoted the most canvases and afforded the greatest individuality to this brooding child, whom he showed on the verge of adolescence, knowledge, and sensuality. Illus. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/05/2013
Release date: 10/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 176 pages - 978-0-87099-366-4
Hardcover - 176 pages - 978-0-8109-0738-6
Hardcover - 192 pages - 978-0-500-09378-8
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