Sunday, 11 October 2009


Jeune Fille a la Chemise Blanche 1955
Oil on Canvas 116 x 90cn
Foundation Maeght, Nice
August 2000

I have probably seen a dozen paintings by Balthus and find his work at best troublesome. This painting is not typical and I have chosen it because it clearly shows the knowing sadness that hides within most of his work.

As the title clearly states it is of a young girl, and whilst she is stereotypical we have none of the usual tableaux used to justify his obsession. Instead she is formally seated for a three-quarters portrait and has her dress loosened from her shoulders revealing her breasts. The pose and clothing suggest that she is being displayed to satisfy our curiosity in the manner of a slave girl being sold at a souk. She remains remote, withdrawn and self-absorbed with a grave and moody look that suggests she is daydreaming.

Despite having parents who were both painters, Balthus didn’t attend art school, but learnt to paint by copying old masters in museums. He was influenced in particular by Piero della Francesca, whose cycle of murals Legend of the True Cross he saw on a visit to Italy in 1926.

This influence can be seen in the abstract formality of his compositions and in his technique which despite being on canvas evokes the feel of a fresco. This work is almost completely painted with glazes of Burnt Umber allowing an intensity of modelling of the light on the figure that underlines the statuesque pose. One can imagine that the young model has been chosen either for or by the artist and is unhappy with the liberties he is taking. Yet to complain is socially unacceptable and unsure of her ground she sits stoically thinking of something else whilst the artist sketches her.

©blackdog 2009


  1. Oh yes, Baalthus is a fascinating, provoking, and often confusing, mysterious artist, two years I visit a great exhbibition in Museum Ludwig, Cologne - and I recall some discussions with my friend about the paintings of young girls (mostly Therese, sometimes looking like little Lolita's in rather sexual poses, but I didn't see this painting) Balthus preferred: Is he therefore a kind of paidophil voyeur? I myself don't believe that (but I have to regard that we are today a bit more sensitive in this point!). I like the painting of this girl who might be totally "self-absorbed" in her thoughts or "daydreaming", unconscious of her beauty and unaware of her possible sexual attraction to other persons, because there isn't any eye-contact to the viewer, and there is an atmosphere of silence around the girl! It may be a some melancholic behaviour of absorption, a bit typical for many girls and boys in the puberty (as I 'know' them)! Your analysis is a fine and thoughtful one- and I like your sensitivity for this girl's situation: "The pose and clothing...", "One can imagine..."
    Today I saw an abstract painting by Emil Schumacher, Melancholie, in the newly opened ES-Museum in Hagen: dark, partly bowlike, lines on a deep yellow (saturnical colour) surface/ground!

  2. sorry: two years ago I visited.. ("Therese dreaming" was one title ...)

  3. Balthus never liked to talk about his art so it is difficult to understand his artistic reasons for his choice of models. He did say however, that the purience was in the eye of the viewer not his. They are certainly unsettling images, some of which are rarely exhibited these days because of the ambiguity.

    I tried to find an image of Schumacher painting but without luck. Did you get a catalogue with it in?