Balthus or a treatise on style

A young girl, a cat, a mirror… We thought that we already knew everything there was to know about Balthus. But in Riehen, Switzerland, the Beyeler Foundation is staging an enlightened show on the enigmatic work of this artist. From naked bodies to serene landscapes… When we think of Balthus, we often think of his pale, consenting young ladies, surprised in dubious positions. But Balthus offers more than striking images of these sleeping beauties, these chrysalids who disturb as much as they enchant. Above all, Balthus is associated with the Italian countryside and the landscapes of the Morvan region, nostalgia for a tranquil world. In Arezzo, the painter’s vision was shaken up when he discovered the frescoes of Piero della Francesca, enhanced by a certain buzz in the air… Born in 1908 in Paris and of Polish descent, Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, better known as Balthus, spent part of his childhood in Switzerland. He became close to artists Bonnard and Derain, and with the encouragement of Rilke, he chose painting from an early age. Apart from perhaps Henri Michaux, an unclassifiable artist, Balthus had no equivalents this century. And yet, on a technical level, nothing seems to stand out in particular. Perhaps because style and great art ultimately consist in covering up one’s game. This withdrawal, this masterly discretion is undoubtedly what makes him one of the great 20th century masters. Singlehandedly, he encapsulates an original combination of Quattrocento painting, Japanese poetry, and the landscapes of Gustave Courbet. In short, something truly magical. But to get there, he’d have to put in time. His path wasn’t that straightforward. When Balthus was first shown in Pierre Loeb’s gallery, in 1934, the failure was excruciating: not a single work sold. It wasn’t until 1966, with the retrospective at the Musée des...

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Data: Franz Marc, in search of autonomy

A German Expressionist painter and a founding member of the Der Blaue Reiter group alongside Kandinsky, Franz Marc (1880-1916) has left behind a powerful body of paintings… A ride towards abstraction.   Franz Marc was born on 8 February 1880 in Munich in a protestant family. His father, Wilhelm Marc, was a painter and teacher. Before turning to the arts, Franz initially saw himself as a philosopher… or pastor. He entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, but quickly left the establishment, finding it overly strict. In 1950, he began encountering animal painters such as Jean-Bloé Niestlé, who led him to create his first horse sketches. At that time, he stopped all human representations in favour of animal forms, expressing an extreme type of naturalism which saw nature as an ultimate refuge for man’s sad social destiny. Paul Klee would write after his death: “He is more human, he loves more warmly, more strongly. He bends humanly towards animals. He lifts them towards himself.” In 1907, a trip to Paris led him to discover the works of Van Gogh and Gauguin. It was a shock for him… The encounter would transfigure his painting, and his palette grew lighter. His bestiary turned wilder. In 1909, his meeting with another Expressionist painter, August Macke, was enlightening. The two artists joined the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM or Munich New Artists Association), founded in January 1909, whose president was a certain Wassily Kandinsky. Franz Marc exhibited his paintings with the group’s other members at the Moderne Galerie Thannhauser. However, the innovative ideas shared by Kandinsky and Franz Marc — who quickly became friends — created a rift in the group, between radical and more moderate painters. Kandinsky resigned from the role in January 1911 after the organising committee of the NKVM rejected one of...

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