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

Jeune fille à la fenêtre

BALTHUS (1908-2001)
Jeune fille à la fenêtre
signed and dated 'Balthus 1955' (lower right)
oil and Casein on canvas
76 3⁄4 x 51 1⁄4 in. (195 x 130 cm.)
Painted in 1955
Claude Hersaint, Meudon (acquired from the artist, by 1956).
Hélène Anavi, France (acquired from the above); Estate sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, 27 March 1984, lot 33.
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, circa 1985.
Y. Bonnefoy, L’Improbable, Paris, 1959, p. 72.
J. Russell, Balthus, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1968, p. 26 (illustrated; titled The Window and dated 1958).
J. Leymarie, Balthus, Geneva, 1978 (illustrated in color, pl. 24).
J. Leymarie, Balthus, Geneva, 1982, p. 135 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 78).
S. Klossowski de Rola, Balthus, London, 1983, p. 98 (illustrated in color, pl. 47).
G. Régnier, Balthus, exh. cat., Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1983, pp. 184 and 364, no. 45⁄148 (illustrated in color, p. 185; illustrated again, pp. 296 and 364).
B. Foucart, “Artiste-Peintre figuratif" in Beaux-Arts, November 1983, no. 7, p. 36 (illustrated in color, fig. 2).
J. Heilpern, “The Bass Reserve” in Vogue, December 1988, p. 345 (illustrated in color in situ in Mrs. Bass's home).
C. Irvine, Remarkable Private New York Residences, New York, 1990, p. 11 (illustrated in color in situ in Mrs. Bass's home, pp. 10 and 14).
J. Leymarie, Balthus, Geneva, 1990 (illustrated, pl. 25).
J. Leymarie, Balthus, Geneva, 1990, p. 138 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 70).
K. Kisaragi, S. Takashina and K. Motoe, Balthus, Tokyo, 1994 (illustrated, pl. 34).
X. Xing, Balthus, Shanghai, 1995 (illustrated in color, pl. 36).
S. Klossowski de Rola, Balthus, New York, 1996, p. 156, no. 60 (illustrated in color).
C. Roy, Balthus, Paris, 1996, p. 168.
V. Monnier and J. Clair, Balthus: Catalogue Raisonné of the Complete Works, Paris, 1999, p. 171, no. P 253 (illustrated).
A. Vircondelet, Les chats de Balthus, Paris, 2000, p. 44 (illustrated in color, p. 45).
D. Hampton, Mark Hampton: An American Decorator, New York, 2009, p. 132 (illustrated in color in situ in Mrs. Bass's home).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Balthus, December 1956-February 1957, p. 33, no. 31 (illustrated; titled The Window).
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Balthus, September 2001-January 2002, p. 352, no. 107 (illustrated in color, p. 353).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Balthus: Cats and Girls, September 2013-January 2014, p. 134, no. 36 (illustrated in color, p. 135).

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Lot Essay

In Jeune fille à la fenêtre, Balthus depicted Frédérique Tison leaning out the open window of his second-floor studio, her back turned to the viewer and her left knee resting on a chair to help her balance. The profusion of sunlit foliage visible through the window contrasts with the unadorned interior; raking light illuminates Frédérique’s left shoulder and arm, as though tempting her to venture outside. She cocks her head at a pensive three-quarter angle, dangling her arms over the windowsill in order to glimpse more of the garden below. “Balthus’s Jeune fille looks like she is waiting for something or someone,” Virginie Monnier has written, “and we wonder what is keeping her from going down to the farmyard” (exh. cat., op. cit., 2001, p. 352). Evoking the nineteenth-century Romantic motif of the woman at a window, with its connotation of unfulfilled desire, the present canvas is rendered in a softly ethereal manner and imbued with the characteristically Balthusian element of anticipation and mystery.
The setting for this poignant scene is the Château de Chassy, a fourteenth-century manor house in Burgundy where Balthus lived and worked from 1953 to 1961. He came upon the castle, isolated in rural landscape, while driving one day through the mountainous region of the Morvan. An imposing, turreted structure, long abandoned and hopelessly dilapidated, Chassy offered Balthus a long-sought refuge from the hubbub of Paris and the opportunity to cultivate his art at a remove from the modern world. He purchased the property for a trifle, assumed the appropriately seigneurial title Count Klossowski de Rola, and set about restoring the château to something of its former glory. “Whatever the struggles, the move facilitated a great period for Balthus’s work,” Nicholas Fox Weber has written. “His achievement at Chassy reflected a tranquility and equanimity that had nothing to do with the rugged living conditions reported by visitors” (Balthus: A Biography, New York, 1999, p. 426).
In 1954, Balthus was joined at Chassy by his step-niece Frédérique, whose mother Denise, a war widow, was married to the artist’s older brother Pierre, a novelist and painter. For the next seven years, until Balthus left Chassy for Rome, Frédérique was his abiding model and muse. He depicted her in nearly forty oil paintings and innumerable drawings, more than he did any of his other sitters. She is easily recognized by her classic profile and long dark hair, whiling away the days in spacious, light-filled interiors. “Frédérique henceforth reigns over these premises,” Jean Leymarie wrote, “occupying the various rooms of the house with her various poses, as she reads, plays cards, daydreams, looks out of the window, or grooms herself.” (op. cit., 1982, p. 66).
Jeune fille à la fenêtre is the first of two large-scale canvases depicting Frédérique at the window that Balthus painted at Chassy. The second, dated 1957, is housed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and was painted in the east-facing, ground-floor salon of the château rather than the west-facing, second-story studio (Monnier and Clair, no. P277). In both works, the rectangle of the window echoes the frame of the canvas, functioning as a sign of the contemplative process of painting. The well-defined geometry of the casement clearly separates interior and exterior, establishing the perimeters of our visual experience and lending permanence to the sun-infused landscape. The wainscoting and open shutters delineate the corner of the room so that the model, and by extension the viewer, are protectively enclosed.
The emotional experience that Balthus captures in the two versions of Jeune fille à la fenêtre, though, is markedly different. In the Metropolitan’s composition, instead of leaning forward into the open air, Frédérique stands upright, slightly back from the window and with both hands on the sill. “Rather than going out,” Monnier has noted, “she looks like she wants to absorb the sun that is turning her hair golden, to invite spring and its light scents to come into the drawing room” (exh. cat., op. cit., 2001, p. 352). In the present painting, Balthus’s model, seems to long for adventures beyond the circumscribed confines of the domestic realm. This palpable sense of yearning is sublimated in Balthus’s second treatment of the theme, where Frédérique appears entirely at peace as she takes in the view through the window.
In The Metropolitan Museum of Art's painting, the outdoor scene prevails over the space of the room, occupying the greater part of the canvas. Seen half-length, Frédérique functions in the composition principally to embody the act of looking that the window connotes. Through her eyes, we gaze at the landscape beyond—a classically receding sequence of courtyards, level with the first-floor window, framed by the decoratively arching branches of a maple tree. In the present Jeune fille à la fenêtre, by contrast, the interior predominates over the smaller frame of greenery. Rather than looking past Frédérique onto the garden, the viewer is invited to share her space. Her full figure is visible, and her bright red sweater, breaching the typically inviolable plane of the window, acts as the painting’s focal point.
The prosaic, rural landscape around Chassy, moreover, is here rendered exotic and unfamiliar. A jungle-like tangle of branches and foliage forms a screen across the foreground, affording only discrete, tantalizing glimpses of the building elevated on a hilltop in the distance—in actuality, a barn. The scene is bathed in the soft, roseate glow of afternoon rather than the clear, silvery light of morning. In contrast to the carefully cultivated, plainly legible vista of the Metropolitan’s painting, the vista in the present canvas suggests unknown territory, heightening the Romantic connotation of longing for the faraway and invoking the necessity of losing oneself to fantasy. “A Balthusian secretiveness remains,” Weber has written. “To give sumptuously yet to withhold, to order and cultivate while dissembling: this is Balthus’s way” (op. cit., 1999, p. 483).
The eight years that Balthus spent at Chassy marked a turning point in his art. He was now financially secure, thanks to a syndicate of collectors who supported him, and he began to work consistently on a larger scale. Deep in the countryside, attuned to rural rhythms and seasonal rites, he pursued a mounting interest and innovative handling in landscape painting, and he imbued his stately interiors with light and luminous color. The erotic content of his art became less overt, and the atmosphere of tension, provocation, or outright menace that had characterized his earlier work gave way to a dreamy languor.
This sea-change is manifestly evident in Balthus’s evolving treatment of the woman at the window theme. In 1933 and 1935, he painted a pair of disquieting, darkly sinister canvases in which the window provokes the same powerful qualms that we feel at the edge of a precipice. The earlier of these paintings depicts a young woman with her back to an open window, bracing herself against an impending fall as she attempts to evade an unseen attacker (Monnier and Clair, no. P72; Eskenazi Museum of Art, Bloomington). In the second painting, Lady Abdy, the model pulls the drapery aside and steps up onto the baseboard, looking over her shoulder towards the viewer as she contemplates a plunge over the sill (no. P80; sold, Christie’s New York, 9 November 2015, lot 18A). In both works, the view through the window is enclosed and claustrophobic, suggesting confinement rather than freedom.
In Jeune fille à la fenêtre, the window is no longer a locus of physical danger and psychic disorder but rather a stimulus to imagination and a metaphor for art. “Balthus’s vision, so harsh two decades earlier, is now lyrical and idealized,” Weber has written. “It is the path taken by so many artists, composers, and writers in the course of their lifetimes: this move toward lightness and simplicity, from the earthbound to the heavenly sphere, from the tangible to the amorphous. Rembrandt, Beethoven, Henry James: each progressed toward abstraction and ethereality, from the specific toward the general” (ibid., p. 482).

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