Balthus – Balthasar Klossowski (1908-2001, Polish-French)

Balthus and Cats

Balthus cats

Painter Balthus, cigarette in mouth, holding pet cat Orphee, at home in the Chateau de Chassy. Photograph by Loomis Dean

Born in Paris, Balthasar Klossowski (1908-2001) later became known as Balthus.  Both of Balthus’ parents were painters and intellectuals.  When he was just eight years old, his mother painted him with the family cat.  Thus began his long relationship with cats and art.  Three years later, at just age 11, he produced a book entitled Mitsou with 40 pen and ink drawings illustrating the story of a young boy who rescues a stray cat.  Among the drawings there are two where Mitsou gives Balthus (the boy) a dead mouse and the two play under a table. In the final drawing of the set, a distraught Balthus hunts for the missing cat and cries inconsolably at its disappearance. The Austrian-German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), a family friend and eventually the lover of Balthus’s mother Baladine, encouraged the publication of the short book in 1921 even writing the preface.  Rilke was an important creative influence in Balthus’ life sometimes even acting as a surrogate father after Balthus’ mother and father had separated.  

Balthus and Cats

Photo by Martine Franck Balthus with Rossinière in 1999

Balthus’s love of cats continued throughout his life as mirrored in his art.  The epitome of this love is the full length self-portrait of Balthus standing next to a big tabby cat which leans lovingly against his leg.  The painting is called:  H.M. The King of Cats Painted by Himself completed in 1935 when he was 27 years old. Later on, he would paint The Cat of La Méditerranée (1949), again a self-portrait, but this time he is the happy cat with a rainbow of fish raining down on his plate.

 

Balthus and cats

Balthus and Cats

Balthus’ Cat

However, perhaps more controversial are his languorously seductive paintings of young adolescent girls and cats which would span two decades beginning in the 1930’s.  In these paintings, young girls are erotically posed with a seemingly disinterested cat located somewhere on the canvas. Sacred and profane are balanced with the cat being representative of the artist himself. Many of these paintings were of his neighbor in Paris, Thérèse Blanchard (1925-1950).  For further insight into the artist’s life and works, a recently published book, BALTHUS Cats and Girls by Sabine Rewald is available from Amazon.  

 

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Le Chat au Miroir I Balthus and Cats

Le Chat au Miroir I

Le Chat au Miroir II Balthus

Le Chat au Miroir III Balthus

Le Chat au Miroir III

 

Le Chat au Miroir III Detail of Cat Balthus

Le Chat au Miroir III
Detail of Cat

 

The Quays 1929 Balthus and Cats

The Quays
1929

 

The King of Cats 1935 Balthus

The King of Cats
1935

 

Girl and Cat 1937 Balthus and Cats

Girl and Cat
1937

 

 

The Drawing Room Balthus 1942 Museum of Modern Art, NY

The Drawing Room
1942
Museum of Modern Art, NY

 

Study of Nude with Cat 1949 Museum of Modern Art, NY Balthus cats in art

Study of Nude with Cat
1949
Museum of Modern Art, NY

 

 

The Mediterranean Cat 1949 Balthus Cats

The Mediterranean Cat
1949

 

The Week with Four Thursdays 1949 Balthus and Cats

The Week with Four Thursdays
1949

 

 

 

Three Sisters and a Cat 1965 Cats in Art

Three Sisters and a Cat
1965

 

Great composition with a Crow and cat Balthus cats in art

Great composition with a Crow

 

Girl with a Mandolin Balthus cats in art

Girl with a Mandolin

 

Girl on a Bed Balthus Cats in 20th century art

Girl on a Bed

 

Cats and Girls Balthus

Cats and Girls

 

Le Lever (Getting Up) 1975-78 Balthus and Cats

Le Lever (Getting Up)
1975-78

 

Balthus, Untitled, c. 1990-2001

Untitled, c. 1990-2001. Photo ©Harumi Klossowska de Rola. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

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