Breaking Ground

Balthus' Study for 'Le Salon'

By Sotheby's

É tude pour “Le Salon" is a study for two monumental canvasses of the same subject, both titled Le Salon, which can be found in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art and The Minneapolis Institute of Art. The artist’s Étude pour “Le Salon” and its related versions were inspired by his friend Pierre Leyris’ farmhouse at Champrovent, where Balthus and his wife stayed between 1940-42 after his demobilization from the army, and where the present oil was painted according to Sabine Rewald. Georgette, the thirteen-year-old daughter of the farmer at Champrovent, served as the model for both figures in this painting.

Balthus, Étude pour “Le Salon”, 1941. Estimate $2,500,000–3,500,000.

Combining the images of a sleeping and reading girl, Le Salon distills two themes that dominate Bathus’ universe. A focal point of his art, children are often depicted sleeping or day dreaming, enveloped in their own world and completely unaware of being observed, With her one leg resting on the couch and the other on the floor, her head titled in her sleep, the girl on the sofa recalls the imagery of sleeping girls in the series of paintings titled Le Rêve, executed between 1955 and 1957, as well as in a number of his nudes which feature the same pose. The girl kneeling on the floor, reading a book, is equally removed from the reality around her; she is entranced by her book as much as the other girl is entranced by her dreams. The children in Balthus’ works are rarely preoccupied by the light-hearted games suitable for their age, and they almost always exist in their own universe, uninterrupted by adults. Despite seeming highly self-absorbed, their often alluring poses and the arrangement of their clothes suggest that the children are aware of the observer, the presumed innocence of their activities drawing even more attention to their dormant sexuality.

Images from left to right: Balthus, Le Salon (I), oil on canvas, 1941-43, The Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis. Balthus, Le Salon (II), oil on canvas, 1942, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Balthus’ work was most recently at the epicenter of a debate in 2017 when a petition was circulated asking The Metropolitan Museum of Art to take down Thérèse Dreaming, a 1938 painting depicting a young Thérèse Blanchard suggestively posing for the artist. The museum ultimately did not take down the work, defending its exhibition as “an opportunity for conversation.” Balthus is once again at the forefront of such conversations with a major Balthus retrospective at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which has gathered 47 of the artist’s canvasses for this exhibition. Juan Ángel López-Manzanares, the curator of the exhibition, has expressed the museum’s mission to contextualize Balthus’ work and openly address any debates on the issue. Ultimately, the debate surrounding Balthus’ body of work has provided an opportunity for museums to explore productive ways of exhibiting works by controversial artists and addressing the oftentimes uncomfortable themes presented in their works of art.

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