Balthus (French, 1908–2001), born Balthazar Klossowski, the Count de Rola, was a Modern painter best known for his controversial depictions of adolescent girls. As a child growing up in Paris, Balthus was constantly surrounded by art. His father was a painter and an art historian, and his mother, a painter as well, engaged in a longstanding relationship with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Major cultural figures like the writer André Gide and artist Pierre Bonnard (French, 1867–1947) were frequent guests at the Klossowski household. Having lived between Berlin and Switzerland during his teenage years, the artist returned to Paris in 1924 to study Old Master paintings at the Louvre, and then moved on to Tuscany in 1926, where he studied frescoes of the Quattrocento.

Balthus’s work was greatly influenced by classical teachings. While still focusing on the nuanced eroticism that drove his work, he experimented with still life, genre scenes, landscape, portraiture, and techniques like classical perspective and composition. One of his most famous early works, entitled La Rue (1933), incorporated childhood tales with the perspective and symbolism of Old Master teachings. In 1934, Balthus exhibited his first erotic paintings at Galerie Pierre in Paris. The most celebrated of these works is the La Leçon de guitare (1934), a piece which portrays a woman and young girl in the midst of a music lesson, with the woman’s breast exposed and the young girl’s skirt above her waist. While the figures are clothed, the scene displays just as much eroticism, if not more, than paintings of the nude tradition. By modeling his composition off the classic pieta, Balthus makes this blatant moment of erotic behavior ‘high art,’ an idea which he carried into his later work. Other noteworthy paintings that played off of this theme are Thérèse Rêvant (1938) and La Chambre (1952–1954).

While much has been speculated about the artist’s personal life in relation to his work—he was known to date and marry women half his age—Balthus was fiercely private, even forbidding his family members from speaking with art critics and historians. In 1961, Balthus became the director of the Académie de France at the Villa Medici in Rome, remaining until 1977 to restore the building. The last 20 years of his life were spent in Switzerland. The artist’s work has been displayed at major institutions throughout the world, with retrospectives at the Tate Gallery in London, Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The artist died in 2001.


Born February 29 in Paris, France as Balthasar Klossowski
Executed some maquettes of settings for a Chinese play he proposed to the Staatstheater in Munich
Spent several weeks with his friends the Wattevilles. He fell in love with Antoinette, and painted her portrait. In October, he was called up to perform his military service in the French army. He was drafted in the 4th régiment de tirailleurs marocains (Moroccan artillery), at Kenitra, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco
rented the studio of the Swiss architect Jeanneret, Le Corbusier's cousin, at 4, Rue de Furstenberg. He became friends with Pierre-Jean Jouve
August: Balthus traveled with Pierre Jean Jouve to Soglio, in Engadine
2 April: married Antoinette de Watteville
Spent time in Switzerland, then returned to Paris
Balthus separated permanently from Antoinette and moved back to Paris. November-December: exhibition at the gallery Beaux-Arts organized by Henriette Gomès
Summer: trip with André Masson in the south of France. On the Côte d'Azur met up again with Lacan, Sylvia Bataille, Picasso, Françoise Gillot. On that occasion he met Laurence Bataille of whom he made several portraits. Balthus became friends with Albert Camus and Paul Eluard
Albert Camus asked him to design the sets and costumes for L'Etat de Siège directed by Jean-Louis Barrault
Balthus designed the sets and costumes for Boris Kochno's ballet, Le peintre et son modèle. Exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, with a preface by Albert Camus. Death of Erich Klossowski, at Sanary
Designed the sets and costumes for Mozart's Così fan tutte for the Festival of Aix-en-Provence, commissioned by Cassandre. Painted the first Etude pour le Passage du Commerce-Saint-André
Moved to the Chateau de Chassy near Autun
Exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. Painted Golden Afternoon, La Toilette, La Sortie du bain
André Malraux, Minister of Culture, appointed Balthus director of the Academy of France in Rome, Villa Medici, despite the opposition of the Institut of which Balthus was not a member
Sent by Malraux on a mission to Japan; there he met Setsuko Ideta. In Rome, became friends with Renato Guttuso, Federico Fellini, Valerio Zurlini, several actors and writers
Balthus and Setsuko Ideta were married in Japan. La Chambre turque and Les Trois sœurs were shown at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. La Chambre turque was purchased by the French state. Balthus began Japonaise au miroir noir and Japonaise à la table rouge
Birth of Fumio, son of Balthus and Setsuko, who would live but two years
Birth of his daughter Harumi. Exhibition at the Musée Cantini of Marseilles
Awarded the Grand Prix National des Arts
Appointed Director of the Academie de France in Rome
appointed member of the Royal Academy of London. Completed Le Peintre et son modèle that was received in the collection of the Musée national d'art moderne of Paris
Went to Poland for the first time. He was made doctor honoris causa of the University of Wroclaw


Exhibition at the Musée des Beaux Arts of Dijon
Exhibition at the Accademia Valentino in Rome
Retrospective at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid
Traveling exhibition in Hong Kong (Museum of Art), Beijing (Palace of Fine Arts) and Taipei (Fine Art Museum)
Retrospective of drawings at the Kunstmuseum of Bern
Retrospective at the Musée cantonal des Beaux Arts of Lausanne
First retrospective of works on paper at Spoleto, curated by Giovanni Carandente. Publication of Balthus by Jean Leymarie, first exhaustive catalog of the paintings (Skira, Genève). La Montagne was received in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York
October - November: major exhibition at the gallery Claude Bernard in Paris of drawings executed in Rome, with a preface by Jean Leymarie
October - November: retrospective at the Tate Gallery in London, curated by John Russel. Began Katia lisant
First exhibitions in Italy, in Turin and Rome. Le Drap Bleu, several still lifes and landscapes
29 February: opening of his exhibition at the gallery Gomès. Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Painted La Tireuse de cartes, Le Rêve II, Le Fruit d'or
March-April - first exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York
First one-man exhibition at the Galerie Pierre, Paris