December 25, 2012

Balthus, Alice (1933)
Excerpt from: Balthus lessons - five controversial works by the French artist; Art in America , Sept, 1997 by Sabine Rewald:
Alice disturbs by its clinically realistic representation of a young woman, not particularly attractive, with strong legs and one disproportionately large breast bared. She is combing her hair in a corner of the painter’s studio. If, as seems likely, the title is an allusion to Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, then the painting’s surface is the mirror before which Alice stands, and the viewer becomes a voyeur. The figure’s sexual accessibility is contradicted by the remote expression of her clouded eyes. Antonin Artaud, a friend of Balthus’s, described this ambiguity in his review of Balthus’s exhibition:
The nude I have in mind has about it something harsh, something tough, something unyielding, and … there is no gainsaying the fact … something cruel. It is an invitation to lovemaking, but one that does not dissimulate the dangers involved.(16)
Balthus matter-of-factly records the outsized breast and the graceless right knee. The model for Alice was the 23-year-old Betty Leyris, the English wife of the French writer and poet Pierre Leyris. Both she and her husband were close friends with Balthus at the time. In the artist’s earlier 1930 portrait of Betty Leyris, she appears haughty, prim and more diminutive. She remembered that Balthus painted Alice rapidly.(17) Things did not proceed as smoothly as Balthus had wished, however. In a burst of impatience or anger, Balthus took the chair on which Betty/Alice rested her foot and flung it against the canvas. The small repaired tear is still visible in the upper right corner.
Alice presents two contrasting views of female sexuality. The ambiguity perceived by Artaud is analogous to the Symbolist view of female sexuality as threatening, cruel and dangerous. Alice’s alluring posture and her strong sensuality can also be compared to Courbet’s painting The Origin of the World (1886). (The Courbet was owned by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, whom Balthus knew; Lacan may well have shown it to him.)
Alice was the only one of the five large paintings included in the Pierre exhibition to remain in France at that time. In 1935 it was acquired by the French writer and poet Pierre Jean Jouve, a friend of Balthus’s. Jouve hung the picture in his bedroom, right across from his bed. When I first saw this painting in the winter of 1979 in Paris — it had changed hands by then — it hung behind a large yellow curtain in a tiny fourth-floor walkup apartment near the Boulevard St. Germain. Sometime in the late 1980s Alice entered a private collection in California, and in the early 1990s spent several years on the American art market. Alice’s raw and confrontational sexuality found no favor with American collectors or museums. Finally, in 1995 the painting was acquired by the Pompidou, where it has hung on permanent view next to Cathy Dressing.

Balthus, Alice (1933)

Excerpt from: Balthus lessons - five controversial works by the French artist; Art in America , Sept, 1997 by Sabine Rewald:

Alice disturbs by its clinically realistic representation of a young woman, not particularly attractive, with strong legs and one disproportionately large breast bared. She is combing her hair in a corner of the painter’s studio. If, as seems likely, the title is an allusion to Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, then the painting’s surface is the mirror before which Alice stands, and the viewer becomes a voyeur. The figure’s sexual accessibility is contradicted by the remote expression of her clouded eyes. Antonin Artaud, a friend of Balthus’s, described this ambiguity in his review of Balthus’s exhibition:

The nude I have in mind has about it something harsh, something tough, something unyielding, and … there is no gainsaying the fact … something cruel. It is an invitation to lovemaking, but one that does not dissimulate the dangers involved.(16)

Balthus matter-of-factly records the outsized breast and the graceless right knee. The model for Alice was the 23-year-old Betty Leyris, the English wife of the French writer and poet Pierre Leyris. Both she and her husband were close friends with Balthus at the time. In the artist’s earlier 1930 portrait of Betty Leyris, she appears haughty, prim and more diminutive. She remembered that Balthus painted Alice rapidly.(17) Things did not proceed as smoothly as Balthus had wished, however. In a burst of impatience or anger, Balthus took the chair on which Betty/Alice rested her foot and flung it against the canvas. The small repaired tear is still visible in the upper right corner.

Alice presents two contrasting views of female sexuality. The ambiguity perceived by Artaud is analogous to the Symbolist view of female sexuality as threatening, cruel and dangerous. Alice’s alluring posture and her strong sensuality can also be compared to Courbet’s painting The Origin of the World (1886). (The Courbet was owned by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, whom Balthus knew; Lacan may well have shown it to him.)

Alice was the only one of the five large paintings included in the Pierre exhibition to remain in France at that time. In 1935 it was acquired by the French writer and poet Pierre Jean Jouve, a friend of Balthus’s. Jouve hung the picture in his bedroom, right across from his bed. When I first saw this painting in the winter of 1979 in Paris — it had changed hands by then — it hung behind a large yellow curtain in a tiny fourth-floor walkup apartment near the Boulevard St. Germain. Sometime in the late 1980s Alice entered a private collection in California, and in the early 1990s spent several years on the American art market. Alice’s raw and confrontational sexuality found no favor with American collectors or museums. Finally, in 1995 the painting was acquired by the Pompidou, where it has hung on permanent view next to Cathy Dressing.

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    Disturb us, Balthus.
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