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    Description

    BALTHUS (BALTHASAR KLOSSOWSKI DE ROLA) (French 1908 - 2001)
    Le Bouquet de Fleurs, 1941
    Oil on artist's board
    28-¾ x 36-¼in.
    Signed and dated on reverse, Balthus 1941

    PROVENANCE:
    Marguerite Caetani, Duchess of Sermoneta (acquired from the artist);
    Sale, Christie's, London, June 30, 1987, lot 220;
    Private Collection, Japan;
    Sale Christie's, New York, May 11, 1994, lot 214;
    Collection of Robert Pincus-Witten and Leon Hecht, New York;
    Property of a Gentleman

    EXHIBITED:
    Galerie Georges Moos, Geneva, November 1943, Balthus, no 4;
    Galerie Beaux-Arts [a name given to the premises of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts on the occasion of this exhibit], Paris, November 25 - December 10, 1946, Balthus: Peintures de 1936 à 1946, no. 12;
    Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, January - March 1996, Balthus.

    LITERATURE:
    Virginie Monnier and Jean Clair, Balthus. Catalogue Raisonné of the Complete Works, Editions Gaillimard, Paris, 1999, cat. no. P 129, ill. p. 139.

    In 1941, the year he painted this emotionally-charged bouquet, Balthus was living in Champrovent at the foot of the French Alps, on the farm of his friends, the Leysis family. He had fled Paris the previous year with his wife to escape the German occupation of the capital and recuperate from war injuries he had incurred. In this remote and picturesque part of eastern France, Balthus planned and produced a group of paintings that remains among the most powerful of his career. Interestingly, as a group, these paintings are not exclusively figurative, although the indisputable masterpiece of the period, the Salon [known in English as The Living Room] quite directly explores the theme of emerging sexuality in children and adolescents for which Balthus is best-known and uses the Leysis children as models (Salon I of 1943 is in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Salon II of 1942 is in the Museum of Modern Art, New York).

    The work of the Champrovent period is particularly potent because Balthus stretched himself artistically. He was physically displaced, far from his usual environment, and this seems to have both irritated him into a more exploratory mode and spurred him to dig a little more deeply into his fundamental motivations for painting the controversial topic that interested him so much. The painter ended up expanding the scope of his usual visual language such that in addition to prepubescent girls posed in autoerotic attitudes or simply self-conscious display, he was also painting compelling portraits, self-portraits, landscapes, and still lifes, including the present work. In his bitter outrage over the war, and his knowledge that everything he knew and had was on the brink of irreparable change or destruction, Balthus had found other analogies for the uneasy awareness of childhood sexuality, for that uncomfortable time of moving into adulthood, and for how precious and painful the purity of childhood is in hindsight for grown-up children who stubbornly and blindly just wanted to get beyond it. In his magnificent Landscape near Champrovent (1942-45), Balthus painted an intense meditation upon the shape of the rolling fields near the chateau-ferme where he had retreated, as though it were a beloved body he would never see again. Part of the painting's power stems from the fact that the painter, in atypical fashion, kept working on it for nearly three years, like some sort of mantric exercise that he believed would keep the land pristine, alive, unchanged, still part of France if he just kept painting it.

    Landscape near Champrovent has every bit the same iconic stillness of this perfectly centralized bouquet in a plain gray cylindrical vase, which eerily resembles a shell casing. Both works in turn have the same quiet, even, frozen quality of the children in Balthus's Salon paintings for which he was making studies at the very same time. In the present Bouquet de Fleurs, which is more directly painted than many of Balthus's works of the period, the stillness is unnerved by the eroticized positions of so many of the flowers. Owing to its strong affinity with the artist's figurative work, this symbolic eroticism was certainly completely intentional on Balthus's part. Lined up in a row along the horizontal midsection of the bouquet are three tulips tipped forward so sharply that we must peer directly into their just-opening petals. In addition, Balthus has virtually split the bouquet in two, and has placed directly in the center of the void a brilliant small white narcissus. It sings out from the murky background and utterly dominates the composition. Its placement and its intensity are more powerful than the more mature overblown peony on the right, or even the brilliant red tulip which is showcased against two white stems of lilac. Just behind the little narcissus is a shadowy indication of a window hung with curtains that are parted, and seem to be disturbed by a night wind.

    In Bouquet de Fleurs, Balthus drew two visual equations. The first, a vase of flowers resembling a beautiful young woman, was an interpretation that the notoriously self-protective Balthus personally permitted to be published in a 1999 essay by Jean Clair for his catalogue raisonné. Clair quoted nineteenth-century writer Giocamo Leopardi as a way of describing Balthus's intentions in portraying young girls: "A girl between the age of sixteen and eighteen has in her face, her movements, her voice, her gait, etc. a divine something which nothing can equal. No matter what her character, her taste, be she gay or melancholy, capricious or earnest, lively or modest. . . This air of innocence, of utter ignorance of evil, of misfortune, of suffering; this flower in short, this very first flower of life, all of this, without even stirring you to love, without even arousing your interest, makes upon you an impression so lively, so profound, so ineffable, that you never weary of observing this face. . . . All this, once again, without our being in love, that is, without feeling any desire to possess the object" (Clair, 1999, p. 46, from Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone di pensieri, Florence, 30 June 1828).

    The other equation Balthus drew in this and other works from the Champrovent period was between the loss of innocence and the loss of one's country. As such this painting is one of the artist's most moving expressions from the war.

    Also in 1941, Balthus sold one of his major early works to Picasso, The Blanchard Children of 1937. Picasso's gesture was significant on a number of levels. First, Europe's foremost abstractionist had given express approval of an artist whose work was out of favor owing to its representational, figurative style that had its roots not in modernism, but in the Old Masters, specifically Masaccio and Piero della Francesca. Second, Picasso later donated The Blanchard Children to the Louvre Museum in Paris. When the curators chose to display the painting, they consequently awarded Balthus the distinction of becoming the first living artist to exhibit his work in the most important museum in France.



    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2006
    9th-10th Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
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