not so much naughty as badass
Post #267 • April 30, 2004, 10:35 AM • 2 Comments
Tyler Green says that if he was going to plunk down $4 - 6 million on a Balthus, such as this one on sale at Sotheby's that is expected to go for that amount, he would "want it to be a little, well, naughtier." Caryn Coleman (who gave me props on the Saatchi post - thanks, Caryn), agrees. I don't.
Balthus's prurience is enjoyable, but that aspect of his work became less prominent as the artist got older. The piece at Sotheby's is an example of the artist giving his heroes, and at least one competitor, a run for their money.
The work is one of the most Cézannian in his ouvre. This is most apparent in the perspective, which flips receeding surfaces up toward the viewer as Cézanne liked to do (thus inspiring Cubism). I would invite a comparison of the curtains to the ones in this Cézanne watercolor; they have been handled with architectural force that recalls the older master's attempt to apply the petit-tache technique of Impressionism in a manner that reinforced form instead of breaking it up, like Monet did. The landscape in the window - a favorite device of his mentor, Bonnard - has been brought to a high key, recalling Cézanne's efforts at the same thing, including the canvases with surprisingly open but wholly functional areas of white space.
Balthus once characterized Leger as an idiot, and it's not hard to see why: even Leger at his most elegant doesn't match the grace of the simplified forms in this Balthus. The spatial idea is similar, however, reducing the form down to geometry and flattening it into the picture plane. Three years after the above Leger was painted, Balthus beat him at his own game.
Balthus wasn't interested in achieving Matisse's fluidity - he had studied Piero too long to give up solid mass - but this work is a clear homage to his Nice cycle. Paintings like this one seem to be direct inspirations.
It even has the erotic charge going on: look where the corner of the table is pointing.
In conclusion, this painting is badass, and if someone buys it for me, I'll do something really, really nice for them.