Provocative Balthus paintings focus of New York museum exhibition

Provocative Balthus paintings focus of New York museum exhibition

NEW YORK - French-born painter Balthus is known for his street scenes and portraits, but it is his paintings of young girls, some with erotic undercurrents, that are the focus of the first exhibition of his works in New York in 30 years.

"Balthus: Cats and Girls - Paintings and Provocations," which opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday and runs through Jan. 12, examines the early decades of the artist's career from the mid-1930s through the 1950s in Paris, Switzerland and central France.

Thirty-four works by Balthus, who died in 2001 at the age of 92 and was among the most admired painters of his time, are in the exhibition.

Many works are of unsmiling girls shown in portraits, sitting, reclining, looking out windows and playing, often with cat, an animal that is a recurrent motif in his paintings.

"These pictures are powerful, sometimes troubling. Some may have been created with the intention to shock their viewers," Thomas P. Campbell, the director of the museum, said at a preview of the exhibition.

Sabine Rewald, the show's curator, had interviewed the realist artist and many of his models and was the author of the catalog for the museum's major 1984 retrospective of Balthus, whose real name was Balthasar Klossowki.

She said he is most identified with his paintings of young girls between childhood and adolescence.

"It is a stage marked by rebellion and also boredom," she explained. "It is much easier to depict in poetry and prose. Balthus did it in paint."

Influenced by surroundings

The exhibition is divided into four galleries, each showing a different stage of his work. In addition, there is another room holding about 40 pen-and-ink drawings done in 1918 when the self-taught artist was 10 years old. The drawings about the loss of his cat, Mitsou, were published in 1921 by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

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