Girls on Canvas
One thing that great art does is make us uncomfortable. In this, Balthus’ paintings succeed like nothing else. The French-born, Polish-descended Swiss artist has enjoyed a major posthumous rediscovery this past year through a retrospective show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one of his works currently hangs in the Kimbell Art Museum as part of its show on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago. Now you can learn more about this controversial figure in Balthus: Through the Looking Glass, a documentary screening at the Kimbell.
Born Balthasar Klossowski in 1908, the artist was greatly admired by the likes of Picasso but never achieved the level of fame of some of his contemporaries. Part of this was because he didn’t take part in the major currents that were revolutionizing art in the early 20th century. Another reason is that he scrupulously kept details of his personal life out of the press so as to avoid tainting perceptions of his art. However, much of the neglect came from discomfort among scholars, museum officials, and patrons with his heavily eroticized portraits of preteen girls. Some of his subjects are in shocking states of undress, though it’s the ones that feature clothed subjects (often depicted reading or lost in their own thoughts) that give off the biggest sexual charge. The painter’s other obsession was cats, which he included in many of his works. Damian Pettigrew’s film followed the artist through his creative process in 1996. It’s accompanied by another documentary about Salvador Dalí.