Thursday, October 24, 2013

Balthus: Cats and Girls. Paintings and Provocations. The Metropolitan Museum Of Art.

I must say that I’ve never given this painter much thought or attention, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed his sparse show of 34 paintings now showing in some of the large galleries of the Metropolitan Museum. I still don’t think he is one of the great artists of the 20th century, his subject matter is too insular and “special” to really take a place in the pantheon of 20th century art, still there are pleasures to be found here even though his subjects mainly young girls, (Thérèse Blanchard in particular who was his favorite young model and whose many portraits fill the first gallery) in provocative poses might unhinge some people. Basically these works are very conservative in technique, lush and beautifully painted, but if the technique is mild mannered and acceptable his subjects are not. I can only imagine what people thought back in the 30’s & 40’s of these reclining young girls and Lolitas some showing undergarments and much flesh, and even today no doubt they will raise some eyebrows and maybe embarrass some of the matronly ladies who are flocking to the show. Then there are the cats, which becomes clearer when you enter the gallery holding the original wonderful 40 small black and white ink drawings of his adventures with his cat Mitsou. These were done when he was 11 and are as I said intimate and wonderful. I’ve known these drawings for a long time, having had a small book of them that was published in 1984 by The Metropolitan Museum. The guy obviously loved cats and they make appearances in many of the paintings, serving as a sort of a memorial to his beloved Mitsou. One of my favorite paintings by him is not in the show, its a double portrait of the painter Joan Miro and his daughter, which I loved as a teen when I would see it at the Moma. The show is up until January 12th 2014.


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