cover image VANISHED SPLENDORS: A Memoir


Balthus, , as told to Alain Vircondelet; trans. from the French by Benjamin Ivry. . HarperCollins/Ecco, $34.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-06-621260-9

Before he died late last year at 92, Count Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, commonly known by his painterly name of Balthus, dictated a disparate collection of brief reminiscences and aphorisms to French journalist Vircondelet, who shaped them into this unusual but evocative memoir. Following a 15-page introduction by Joyce Carol Oates, the text is organized into 107 anecdotes and encounters, ranging in length from a few sentences to three pages of double-spaced type, with two sections of illustrations (not seen by PW). Vircondelet weaves together the disparate elements of the artist's memories, descriptions of process, art historical discourses and statements of religious devotion into a loosely interconnected whole that probes just a few themes with ever-greater depth and feeling. The painter introduces the subject of eroticized adolescent girls early on and returns to it repeatedly, rejecting the obvious sexual interpretation of his subject and insisting on his attention to a model's "slow transformation from an angelic state to that of a young girl." In the context of this volume, which details devout Catholicism and a consuming interest in depicting spirit beneath surfaces, this explanation is plausible if not altogether convincing. Elsewhere, Balthus describes his love of early Renaissance painting, and his interest in absorbing the work of Masaccio and Piero della Francesca; he insists, with respect to his own work, "I give no tyrannical orders, but let the painting make itself. The hand receives indications and serves as a humble and faithful tool in attaining self-asserting beauty." He details the rituals of his daily life in Switzerland (managed by his wife, Countess Setsuko) as he continues to paint into old age. This great painter's candid immediacy in bringing to life encounters with the beautiful, famous, talented and with his own genius will have art junkies thoroughly hooked. (Dec. 6)