5 minutes with... Thérèse sur une banquette by Balthus

Deputy Chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art Conor Jordan contemplates a work by Balthus from The Dorothy and Richard Sherwood Collection, which set a new world record price for the artist on 13 May

Balthus (1908-2001), Thérèse sur une banquette, 1939. 28⅝ x 36¼ in (72.7 x 91.9 cm). Sold for $19,002,500 on 13 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Balthasar Klossowski de Rola (1908-2001), or Balthus as he is better known, was a French-Polish painter whose dream-like portraits — mostly of women and girls he knew — can be found in major collections around the world, including the Met, MoMA and the Tate.

Contemplating one such portrait, Thérèse sur une banquette (1939), Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art specialist Conor Jordan says that he is struck by ‘not only its dramatic poise, a combination of classical balance and dynamism, but also the harmony of the colour — the unusual smoky, raspberry colour of her sweater with the warm earth colours all around her.’

Thérèse Blanchard lived with her family just a few streets from Balthus’s studio in Paris. The artist had first met her in 1936, and would subsequently paint her on 10 occasions. 

Balthus (1908-2001), Thérèse sur une banquette, 1939. 28⅝ x 36¼ in (72.7 x 91.9 cm). Sold for $19,002,500 on 13 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

‘In many ways I think this work has a  choreography,’ continues the specialist. ‘The pose is delicate, but the fact that you have these angles and this sense of incipient movement gives that air of ambiguity that you often find in Balthus’s paintings.

‘It wasn’t long after this painting was finished that Picasso — then a living god on the French art scene — acquired a Balthus for himself from the same, famed Thérèse series,’ he continues. 

Picasso, who owned the artist’s 1937 work Les Enfants – Hubert et Thérèse Blanchard, which he ultimately donated to the Louvre, praised Balthus as the one contemporary artist who wasn’t trying to copy him.

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This would be the last painting that Balthus ever made of Thérèse; their companionship was cut short by the Second World War, which saw Balthus leave France. By the time he returned in 1946, Thérèse had married and moved to another part of the city. Not long afterwards, aged just 25, she died of unknown causes.

Thérèse sur une banquette  comes to auction from The Collection of Dorothy and Richard Sherwood. For 60 years it hung in the living room of their Beverly Hills home, which had walls that matched the red of Blanchard’s sweater. The portrait was last seen in public in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2013 exhibition Balthus: Cats and Girls.

The painting is being offered along with other masterpieces from the Sherwoods’ collection, including important works by Richard Diebenkorn and Vilhelm Hammershøi.

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