Balthazar Klossowski, called Balthus, was born on 29 February 1908, in Paris. In 1914, his family moved to Switzerland. Recognised as a talented artist from a young age, his work was first published in 1921 in a book titled Mitsou, which featured forty of his drawings and a preface by Austrian poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke. In 1926, Balthus visited Florence, where he copied frescoes by Piero della Francesca, the following year he executed tempera wall paintings in the Protestant church of the Swiss village of Beatenberg. Balthus’ first exhibition was a group show at Galerie Förter, Zurich.
From 1930 to 1932, Balthus lived in Morocco before moving to Paris in 1933. Balthus had no interest in modernism, instead cultivating a style of introverted realism depicting pubescent girls in voyeuristic scenes. His first solo exhibition in Paris, held at Galerie Pierre in 1934, caused scandal for its subject matter, with the painting, The Guitar Lesson (Private Collection), causing particular consternation for it sadistic and sexually explicit imagery. Whilst in Paris, Balthus would become close with André Derain, Joan Miró and Alberto Giacometti, who would become a particularly faithful friend. In 1937, he married Antoinette de Watteville, who had posed for a series of portraits and the painting, Cathy Dressing, 1933 (Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid). In 1938, Balthus had his first exhibition at the Galerie Pierre Matisse, New York.
During the Second World War, Balthus fled to Switzerland where he met publisher Albert Skira and writer André Malroux. In 1946, he returned to France and continued to paint disquieting images of young girls in domestic interiors alongside portraits in a classically-inspired style. In 1956, he was the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and in 1964 moved to Rome where he presided over the Villa de Medici as director of the Académie de France in Rome. In 1977, he moved to Rossinière, Switzerland. In the final years of his life, Balthus exhibited at the XXIX Venice Biennale (1980) and was the subject of major exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, London (1968), Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1983), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1984) and Kunstmuseum Bern (1994). He died on 18 February 2001.
Balthus’ work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome; Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Musée Cantini, Marseille; the Tate Collection, London.
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