BALTHUS (1908-2001)
BALTHUS (1908-2001)
BALTHUS (1908-2001)
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BALTHUS (1908-2001)
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BALTHUS (1908-2001)

Le panier de cerises

BALTHUS (1908-2001)
Le panier de cerises
signed and dated ‘Balthus. 1961.’ (on the reverse)
oil and Casein on canvas
25 5/8 x 36 ¼ in. (65 x 92 cm.)
Painted in 1956-1961
Henri Samuel, Paris (acquired from the artist); Estate sale, Christie’s, London, 2 December 1996, lot 47.
Private collection, France (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
S. Klossowski de Rola, Balthus, London, 1983, p. 98, no. 51 (illustrated in color; dated circa 1956).
Balthus, exh. cat, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1983, no. 211, p. 376 (illustrated).
C. Roy, Balthus, Paris, 1996, p. 257 (illustrated in color; dated 1961).
S. Klossowski de Rola, Balthus, London, 1996, p. 157, no. 66 (illustrated in color; dated circa 1956).
V. Monnier and J. Clair, Balthus: Catalogue Raisonné of the Complete Works, Paris, 1999, p. 188, no. P315 (illustrated).
S. Klossowski de Rola, Balthus, London, 2001, p. 157, no. 67 (illustrated in color; dated circa 1956).
E. Eerdmans, Henri Samuel, Master of the French Interior, New York, 2018, pp. 13 and 22 (illustrated in situ in Samuel's home).
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Knokke-le-Zoute, Casino Communal, Balthus, May-September 1966, no. 42.
Paris, Galerie Henriette Gomès, Paysages et natures mortes de Balthus, June-July 1977.
Ornans, Musée Maison Natale de Gustave Courbet, Balthus dans la Maison de Courbet, July-September 1992, no. 47 (illustrated in color).
Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Balthus, May-August 1993, p. 106 (illustrated in color).

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Lot Essay

Le panier de cerises is a compelling example of Balthus’ bold and inventive approach to the long-standing traditions of still life painting. An avid scholar and enthusiast of Old Master painters such as Caravaggio and Nicolas Poussin whose work the artist first encountered on visits to the Louvre as a young man, Balthus sought to emulate their style and technique in his own compositions. Yet, throughout his prolific career, Balthus skirted conventional twentieth century approaches to modernism and avant-garde movements such as Surrealism. Instead, he cultivated a self-taught classicism—evident in the enigmatic subject matter and technique of his interior portraits, still lifes and landscapes—that ultimately served as a framework for more subversive artistic investigations that have proven to resist art-historical categorisation.
“Real modernity is in the reinvention of the past, in re-found originality based on experience and discoveries” (Balthus and Alain Vercondelet, ed., quoted in Vanished Splendors: A Memoir, New York, 2001, p. 81).
Once held in the collection of the late Henri Samuel, a revered French interior designer who hung the work above the fireplace of his Paris home for many years, the present painting appears to regenerate and modernise an early seventeenth century still life scene by the Spanish painter Blas de Ledesma. While the pyramid of ripe red cherries uniformly stacked in a woven basket remains at the center of the scene, the flowers—presumably irises—springing up in the dark background of the original painting are brought to the foreground of Balthus’ new composition. Yet in the French artist’s work, these two iris flowers are imbued with new meaning as a symbol historically associated with France and its monarchy and, debatably, the origin of the famous fleur-de-lis. The thick and textured application of paint is particularly evident here in the petals of the flowers and in the front, lower section of the painting, where Balthus is able to construct a strong sense of depth and layering in the work despite the lack of shadow or chiaroscuro in his rendering of the scene.
The background of Le panier de cerises, unlike those classical works which Balthus had studied, subtly indicates a landscape scene behind the still life arrangement. Through stippled brushstrokes of green paint and the inclusion of two gable-roofed buildings at the far edges of the canvas, closer inspection of the work reveals this hybrid style composition that the artist had begun to experiment with in his studio in the seventeenth century Château de Chassy in Morvan, a mountainous region in central France, where he lived between 1953 and 1962. This move coincided with a revival of Balthus' inspiration, as well as a renewal of his palette; he executed some twenty landscapes while staying here, most of them from the window of his first floor studio in the château where the present work would have been painted. Fruits sur le rebord d’une fenêtre (V. Monnier and J. Clair, no. P270), a still life from the same period, reveals this setting in more detail as the windowsill of Balthus’ studio becomes the surface for his still life subjects which almost appear to become part of the hilly fields surrounding the château.

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