BALTHUS (1908-2001)
BALTHUS (1908-2001)
BALTHUS (1908-2001)
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BALTHUS (1908-2001)
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Property from a Private New York Collector
BALTHUS (1908-2001)

Japonaise au miroir noir

BALTHUS (1908-2001)
Japonaise au miroir noir
signed, dated and inscribed 'Balthus 1967-1976 Ne pas vernir S.V.P.' (on the reverse)
Casein and tempera on canvas
59 ¼ x 76 7/8 in. (150.2 x 195.2 cm.)
Painted in 1967-1976
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 16 December 1977.
T.B. Hess, "Balthus: Seen and Scene" in New York Magazine, 21 November 1977, p. 97 (illustrated in color, p. 95).
W. Zimmer, "'Ordinary Rites" in The Soho News, 24 November 1977.
J. Leymarie, Balthus, New York, 1978 (illustrated, pl. 44).
G. Robert, "Balthus et l'archéologie du voir" in Vie des arts, summer 1978, vol. 23, no. 91, p. 50 (illustrated, p. 52, fig. 3; titled Japonaise au meuble noir).
J. Leymarie, Balthus, New York, 1982, p. 94 (illustrated in color, p. 95; illustrated again, p. 144).
S. Klossowski de Rola, Balthus, New York, 1983 (illustrated, pl. 67).
Balthus, exh. cat., Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1984, p. 379, no. 224 (illustrated).
J. Leymarie, J. Rodolphe de Salis, J. Starobinski and J. Zutter, Balthus, exh. cat., Musée des beaux-arts, Lausanne, 1993, p. 58 (illustrated).
K. Kisaragi, S. Takashina and K. Motoe, Balthus, Tokyo, 1994 (illustrated, pl. 54).
X. Xing, Balthus, Shanghai, 1995 (illustrated, pl. 65).
C. Roy, Balthus, Boston, 1996, p. 236.
S. Klossowski de Rola, Balthus, New York, 1996, p. 158, no. 83 (illustrated in color).
V. Monnier and J. Clair, Balthus: Catalogue Raisonné of the Complete Works, New York, 1999, p. 193, no. P 331 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Balthus, November-December 1977, no. 12.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Balthus, February-May 1984, p. 52, no. 48 (illustrated, fig. 88).

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Lot Essay

The work of French artist Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola) is known for its self-contained contradictions and tensions, between the eroticism of his guileless subjects, the uncanniness imbued in his mundane settings, and the public presentation of private interior spaces and moments. Balthus began his artistic explorations in 1920s Paris—the Paris of Cubism, Purism, and Surrealism, all of which departed from observable reality. He stood apart from these movements, remaining embedded in art history’s figurative tradition, though he was influenced by Surrealism’s dreamlike uncertainty and the peculiarity of Neue Sachlichkeit. “I always feel the desire to look for the extraordinary in ordinary things,” Balthus once said, “to suggest, not to impose, to leave always a slight touch of mystery in my paintings” (quoted in R. Merritt, ed., Shared Space: The Joseph M. Cohen Collection, Bologna, 2010, p. 109). In Japonaise au miroir noir, Balthus has created an enclosed world within the confines of the canvas, capturing and unsettling a familiar reality. As Nicholas Fox Weber has written of this work, “Setsuko’s arms here define ‘gesture’ as Artaud emphasized it in non-Western theater, declaring its superiority to verbal language. When we see this splendid canvas, these arms immediately ennoble their owner and bespeak her needs and wants. The right one reaches out in the fullest possible stretch, expressing freedom and will. The left provides requisite balance and support, and portrays the spectacular abilities of the human body. Both limbs are painted simplistically—clearly just paint: flat, featureless, a form of code—yet they are animal, plausible, and real” (Balthus: A Biography, New York, 1999, p. 546).
Balthus’s wife Setsuko Klossowska de Rola (née Ideko) is likely the model for this work, as well as its companion piece Fille japonaise avec une table rouge (Monnier and Clair, no. P 332; Private collection). Setsuko, whom Balthus met during a trip to Japan in 1962 and married in 1967, posed for a number of his paintings, most famously as an odalisque in La chambre turque (Monnier and Clair, no. P 329; Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris). The simultaneous creation of both the present work and Fille japonaise avec une table rouge took place over nearly ten years. This lengthy working period was characteristic of the artist’s process, as he cultivated a deliberate and methodical approach rooted in the methods of the Old Masters. According to Balthus, “painting is an art of patience, a long story with the canvas…” (quoted in R. Bouvier, Balthus, Basel, 2018, p. 107). The pervasive sense of timelessness within Balthus’s paintings has been ascribed to this method: so exhaustive was the stillness required of the models that they “became” their poses (ibid., p. 109). There is a sense here of motion arrested, as if, like Narcissus, Setsuko has become entranced by her own reflection, caught like a fly in amber.
Primarily an autodidact, Balthus studied art in the galleries of the Musée du Louvre where he was fascinated by—among others—the Old Masters, Nicolas Poussin and Piero della Francesca. Balthus’s formal order, his compositional clarity, owes much to these artists. The most visible influence in Japonaise au miroir noir, however, is that of Japanese ukiyo-e prints. Balthus’s early mentor, Pierre Bonnard, was enamored of these prints. Ukiyo-e woodblock prints gained popularity with European audiences and artists in the 1860s; the Impressionists in particular were drawn to the polychrome depictions of landscapes, kabuki theater and courtesans. Like Bonnard, the Impressionists delighted in the Japanese prints’ condensed space, flatted forms, asymmetrical compositions and unusual cropping, all of which Balthus has employed in present work. The two-dimensionality of Japonaise au miroir noir, the creation of shape through line rather than shade, and the abrupt truncation of Setsuko’s right foot, all nod to the conventions of ukiyo-e prints.
Balthus drew from a repeating repertoire of figurative stances, awkward arrangements of limbs and bodies that are at once discomfiting and hypnotic. Variations on Setsuko’s pose in Japonaise au miroir noir—one leg partially extended, the torso supported by a single arm—can be seen some decades earlier in Les enfants Blanchard, 1937 (Monnier and Clair, no. P 100; Musée national Picasso, Paris); and La Patience, 1943 (Monnier and Clair, no. P 140; The Art Institute of Chicago).

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