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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.




April 30, 2004, 7:07 PM

While the Balthus is indeed lovely, the price tag reflects the generalized absurdity and ridiculous inflation of art prices for big names (which does not necessarily mean big talents). If Tyler Green wants something "naughtier," he can easily get work that makes Balthus look positively puritanical for considerably less money--the stuff is everywhere.

As for Leger, the piece you link looks like Warhol knocking off Picasso, and the word elegant scarcely comes to mind. It's rather clunky, heavy-handed, and looks like very 1930's "proletarian" stuff (although it's from 1956, which shows how little Leger evolved). At various recent high-end art fairs, he was ubiquitous, like Dubuffet. In both cases, more is less.


Tyler Green

May 2, 2004, 5:00 PM

I agree with everything you say... although I see less Bonnard out the window than you do perhaps (Bonnard's gardens were lush rainforest plots oddly dropped into the middle of France). My point, delivered in shorthand so short as to be practically impossible to see, let alone grasp, was that if you're going to drop $6M on a Balthus, you really should wait for a better or more iconic one. (Not that anyone asked me, of course.)



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