Balthus (1908-2001)
The Francey and Dr. Martin L. Gecht Collection
Balthus (1908-2001)

Etude pour Nu de profil

Balthus (1908-2001)
Etude pour Nu de profil
signed with monogram (lower left)
charcoal, pencil and estompe on paper, lightly squared for transfer
39 5/8 x 27 ½ in. (99.9 x 69.8 cm.)
Executed in 1972
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris.
B.C. Holland, Inc., Chicago.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, September 1979.
V. Monnier and J. Clair, Balthus: Catalogue Raisonné of the Complete Works, Paris, 1999, p. 357, no. D 1252 (illustrated).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Balthus in Chicago, 1980, no. 39 (illustrated, p. 8; titled Young Girl Standing).
The Art Institute of Chicago, Graphic Modernism: Selections from The Francey and Dr. Martin L. Gecht Collection, November 2003-January 2004, pp. 37 and 173, no. 28 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

The tender subject of a young woman serenely sleeping, dreaming, or indulging in reverie has fascinated important late 19th and 20th century masters, including Gustave Courbet, Paul Gauguin, Odilon Redon, Pierre Bonnard, and—most famously—the two great arch-rivals of the modern era: Henri Matisse, as he painted his sensual odalisques in repose; and Pablo Picasso, who delighted in watching his young mistress Marie-Thérèse as she slept. Balthus arrived toward the end of this long and distinguished line, and even after such exemplary precedents, one finds in his treatment of this theme an exquisite perfection. A sensitivity and carefully gauged discretion and taste enabled Balthus to insightfully evoke the many subtle mysteries of this most intimate realm of the feminine inner self.
“There is no more exacting discipline than capturing these variations in faces and poses of my daydreaming young girls,” Balthus wrote. “The drawing’s caress seeks to rediscover a childlike grace that vanishes so quickly… The challenge is to track down the sweetness so that graphite on paper can re-create the fresh oval of a face, a shape close to angels’ faces” (quoted in M. Krisco et al., exh. cat., op. cit., 2003, p. 37).
The present work is one of sixteen preliminary studies for Nu de profil (Monnier and Clair, no. P 334; fig. 1), but is only one of four drawings in which the figure makes direct eye contact with the viewer. The subject is Michelina, one of Balthus’ recurring models, the daughter of the artist’s cook at the Villa Medici in Rome, the quarters of the Académie de France in Rome, where Balthus served as director from 1961 to 1977.
In this drawing Michelina stares directly at the viewer, appealing to our feelings as the very embodiment of innocence, and that of a particularly gentle and delicate kind—vulnerable, too—arising from that crucial period of transformation through adolescence to early adulthood, which of course involves the increasingly strong stirrings of sexuality. Just as coming-of-age autobiographies and fiction have long been an important part of our literary heritage, the art of Balthus may also be seen to shed valuable light on this phenomenon, as a kind of deeply perceptive and enchanting visual poetry, sincerely felt and beautifully imagined. "He tries to find in you things he can depict, aspects of you that are not simply physical," Michela "Michelina" Terreri later described of posing for Balthus. "He tries to transcribe what you are; and so everything depends on the model, if she can reveal herself to the artist, who then draws what he wants to bring out... For me, [his pictures] show someone managing to capture an important moment of passage—that from childhood to adulthood" (quoted in J. Clair, ed., Balthus, exh. cat., Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 2001, p. 151).

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