Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, known as, 1908-2001),
Étude pour Passage du Commerce-Saint-André,
felt-tip pen, coloured crayon and black chalk on paper,
8.14 x 8.14 in.
Executed circa 1954

Intimate Balthus


From 15-26 October, Christie’s Paris Impressionist and Modern Art department will have the privilege of presenting 46 works by Balthus, from the Stanislas Klossowski de Rola Collection, the artist’s son.

Drawing played a fundamental part in the work of my father as it allowed him, as he put it, to retain the information imparted by sight and allowing him to investigate how he might develop the profound formal nature of any future project and also to read the intimate structure of things. By drawing, he stated one gets to the heart of the world, and the more one draws, the deeper one can penetrate that which is. Insisting on the necessity of drawing from nature, he contrasted it with the spectacular reinvention that took place in his paintings outlining how he sought therein to express the extraordinary geometry of all natural things that never ever failed to strike him. He considered the ability to translate that innate harmony, the most important part of drawing, which thus allowed him to extract from his subject that, to him, was its quintessence.

It is therefore, most unfortunate, that the greater part of his drawings did not survive, as during an extensive part of his life, he took no special care to preserve those drawings which, having served their function as useful tools for the elaboration of his paintings, were abandoned to all the hazards of his Studio, causing therefore the greater part of them to be regrettably somehow destroyed or lost.

Interior of the Villa Fleur d’Eau.
Archival image © Stanislas Klossowski de Rola.
Interior of the Villa Fleur d’Eau. Archival image © Stanislas Klossowski de Rola.

That is why, it must be stressed, the survivors are for us extremely precious documents that bear witness to his way of planning his pictorial compositions, and mapping out his future designs whether realized or not.

The late Sir John Richardson (1924-2019) in a text written for the Catalogue of an Exhibition of a part of my collection that took place in New York in 2000 wrote: "[...] the secretive nature of Balthus’ drawings puts me in mind of the no less secretive sinopie: the often beautiful underpaintings on which frescoes are based -underpaintings which we would never have been able to see but for wartime bombings and other disasters [...] his drawings are works of art in their own right, he went on add: ...the fact that all the drawings in the present show were gifts to Stanislas from his father or mother baroness Antoinette de Watteville, is a measure of their personal as well as their historical significance."

My Collection has never included any of the large drawings that my father executed during the course of the 1970s with the sole scope of selling them to raise desperately needed monies to supplement the deplorably miserly reception funds allotted at the time by the French government to the Villa Medici seat of the French Academy in Rome of which he was the Director for sixteen years. During the 1980s, he invariably gave me drawings for my birthday and for Christmas, which gifts I prized above all else.

In the early 1990s, as I was selecting drawings from one of his folders, he gently chided me for choosing the most "legible ones" giving me the large Nude drawn on Elephant paper which he declared was the most interesting one he had done it is he said: "An Abstraction of The Nude".

When I discovered that the portrait of my grandfather the Colonel de Watteville had remained in his old Studio at the Chateau de Chassy, I complained so vehemently about this state of affairs that my father, moved by the justice of my claim, took at once the necessary steps to retrieve the work in question.

Subsequently he presented the painting to my mother for her birthday two years before she died. The preparatory sketch for that portrait which had been the property of my uncle the famous Professor Hubert de Watteville, my brother and I inherited, along with two other drawings, from his widow Elsa de Watteville.

A Drawing of extraordinary importance was found by pure chance in a large book that had belonged to my mother it was the very best of a mere handful of preparatory sketches for the Passage du Commerce Saint Andre des Arts.

Another important discovery of great interest was fortuitously made by my stepmother who, while examining a lot of ancient painted calicoes I had brought over to the Grand Chalet from the Villa Fleur d'Eau, found a number of precious elements used by my father in 1953 to paint murals in my mother’s bedroom at the Lakeside villa she had acquired the preceding year. Balthus had spent several weeks intent upon this labor of love and although he never completed everything he had planned to paint I recall how full of admiration I was, as a ten year old, watching my father perched on a tall ladder a rose in one hand, his brush in the other, painting it with great skill on the wall.

All those elements, and accompanying water color sketches, have become all the more precious since the originals are no longer visible. When the property was sold my father’s friend and expert restorer Michel Bourbon, had proposed to remove all those murals but, alas, his untimely death scuttled the plan.

Antonin Artaud wrote that "Balthus paints as if he knew the secret of lightning..." To that I will add, in conclusion of the present text, that in drawing he added to his wonderful skills, the gentle penetrating gaze of the lover sketching, with marvelous results, the infinite tenderness of the Ideal Kingdom of Beauty his soul aspired to.

-Stanislas Klossowski de Rola, Malibu 2021