of Girls, Cats,
Balthus: Cats and Girls — Paintings and Provocations explores the origins and permutations of the French artist’s focus on felines and the dark side of childhood.
Balthus’s lifelong fascination with adolescence resulted in his most iconic works: girls on the threshold of puberty, hovering between innocence and knowledge. In these pictures, Balthus mingles intuition into his young sitters’ psyches with an erotic undercurrent and forbidding austerity, making them some of the most powerful depictions of childhood and adolescence committed to canvas. Often included in these scenes are enigmatic cats, possible stand-ins for the artist himself.
The exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is organized chronologically and focuses on the early decades of the artist’s career, from the mid-1930s to the 1950s, and features 34 paintings, as well as 40 ink drawings for the book Mitsou that were created in 1919, when Balthus was 11 years old—thought to be lost, these drawings have never before been on public display.
The exhibition is made possible by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust, the Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, and Diane Carol Brandt.
Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski, 1908-2001) and his elder brother, Pierre (1905-2001), were born in Paris into an artistic and intellectual milieu. Their father, Erich Klossowski (1875-1946), was an art historian and painter whose family had escaped from Poland in 1830 during an unsuccessful revolt against Russia and who obtained German citizenship in East Prussia. The boys’ mother, Elisabeth Dorothea Klossowska (1886-1969), was also a painter and was known as Baladine.
As an eight-year-old, in 1916, Balthus had posed with his pet cat for a watercolor by his mother. Three years later he worked his adventures with a stray cat he called Mitsou into 40 pen-and-ink drawings. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, a family friend — who not long after became Baladine’s lover —was so enchanted by these drawings t hat he arranged for them to be published in 1921 in the book Mitsou, for which he provided a preface in French. At Erich Klossowski’s request, the cover of the book gave the young artist’s name as “Baltusz,” as he then spelled his nickname — which was a shortened version of his given name, Balthasar.
At Rilke’s suggestion, Balthus signed his work from then on with this childhood nickname, at some point changing the spelling to “Balthus,” as we know it today. Rilke played an important role in Balthus’s life, as a crucial creative influence and also as a surrogate father following Baladine and Erich’s separation.
Cats remained a force and presence in the artist’s work and life beyond his Mitsou drawings. In 1935, when Balthus was 27 years old, he painted his self-portrait The King of Cats. In it, he stands with his right hand on his hip, his left hand gripping his lapel, as a tiger cat rubs its head against his right knee.
Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski) (French, 1908-2001), The King of Cats, 1935, Oil on canvas, 30 11/16 x 16 5/16 in., Fondation Balthus, Switzerland, © Balthus.
Amir H. Fallah, The Drum Beat From The East 2, 2013, detail.
The Relationship between Patronage and Art-Making
All the paintings in the show are pre-sold, commissioned portraits, where the artist exercised complete artistic authority to manipulate the image according to his own interpretation. The process involved initial collaboration with the commissioner, a performative component in the staging, and the element of surprise in the reveal of the works to the patrons for the first time during the show preview.
Amir H. Fallah >>
Trafalgar Chintz, Attributed to John Bury (British, Lancashire b. 1764), England, ca. 1806, detail.
History and Artifacts, Monumental Central Park Obelisk
Since 1881, an ancient Egyptian monument — the obelisk of Pharaoh Thutmose III, popularly known as Cleopatra’s Needle — has stood in New York’s Central Park, a gift to the City of New York from the khedives of Egypt. It is the only monumental obelisk from ancient Egypt in the United States. The obelisk can be seen from several vantage points within The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is located nearby.
Cleopatra's Needle >>
Jeff Wall, Jell-O, 1995 transparency in lightbox, 143,5 x 180 cm Goetz Collection, © Jeff Wall, detail.
Jeff Wall, Human Condition at End of the 20th Century
Jeff Wall’s contribution to the art of our times is the formulation of a novel pictorial concept. Using large-format transparencies mounted in lightboxes the artist introduced a revolutionary form of object into art borrowed from advertising that oscillates between the boundaries of all genres — between photography, painting, sculpture, film and television. The subject of his opulent pictorial compositions is always the conditio humana, as experienced at the close of the 20th century.
Jeff Wall >>
Nick Knight, “Isabella Blow” collection for V #86 Fall 2013.
The Life, Look, and Legacy of Isabella Blow
Born into the rarefied world of British aristocracy, Isabella’s thirty-year career began in the early 80s as Anna Wintour’s assistant at US Vogue. On her return to London in 1986 she worked at Tatler followed by British Vogue. In 1997 she became the Fashion Director of Sunday Times Style after which she returned to Tatler as Fashion Director. Driven by a passion for creativity, Isabella is credited for having nurtured and inspired numerous artists and designers.
Isabella Blow >>
Gallery owner Alfred Flechtheim (1878-1937) was a major protagonist in the art scene during the first third of the 20th century. His commitment to the Rhineland Expressionists, the French avant-garde and German Modernism and his support of important artists such as Max Beckmann, George Grosz and Paul Klee made him internationally famous even during his lifetime. The National Socialist regime, however, changed his life and that of his family drastically. Flechtheim had to leave Germany in October 1933. As an art dealer of Jewish extraction he suffered public defamation and, by 1935, had closed his galleries in Düsseldorf and Berlin and transferred the artworks he still possessed abroad, mostly to London, where he died in 1937 at the age of just 59 as the result of an accident. His wife, Betty, committed suicide in 1941 in the face of her imminent deportation. The remaining works of art in their flat in Berlin were confiscated and their whereabouts remains unknown to this day.
100 years ago Alfred Flechtheim opened his first gallery in Düsseldorf on 9 October 1913. His activities as an art dealer have left their mark in numerous museums to this day in the form of major works of art. These works, acquired through his galleries, have made and still continue to make a decisive contribution towards defining the profile of each respective museum. Almost all leading museums of modern art in Germany and abroad have works by Ernst Barlach, Max Beckmann, Heinrich Campendonk, Lovis Corinth, Paul Klee, George Grosz, Oskar Kokoschka, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Wilhelm Morgner, Heinrich Nauen, Max Pechstein, René Sintenis, Edgar Degas, André Derain, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Aristide Maillol, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso or Paul Signac with a Flechtheim provenance in their holdings.
The aim of this project is to trace the path these works of art took before arriving in the museums, their provenance and their sales history from the artist to the dealer and collector. Particular attention is placed on the time Alfred Flechtheim dealt with the works as well as the circumstances under which these were ultimately acquired by the respective institutions. Participating museums are displaying works of art to the public that have an ‘Alfred Flechtheim’ provenance in the form of exhibitions and presentations of works in their own rooms (see below).
The website www.alfredflechtheim.com provides an overview of the complete exhibition with all works that have a connection to the Galerie Flechtheim and are now in the 15 museums participating in the project.
The database generated www.alfredflechtheim.com provides background information (title, date, medium, dimensions, time of acquisition and present whereabouts) on the more than 300 works, as well as relevant information on their provenance, a bibliography and description of the works. By logging into the website visitors can search the works according to these criteria and create their own, personal, virtual exhibition tour.
Alfred Flechtheim >
Wilhelm Lehmbruck Bather 1913 Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, © Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf,