- Petit nu à la coiffeuse
- Signed with the artist's monogram and dated 52 (center left)
- Oil on canvas
- 25 3/4 by 21 1/4 in.
- 65.7 by 54 cm
Acquired from the above in March 1990
As Balthus recalled: “I’ve always had a naïve, natural complicity with young girls… Spiritual risks occur during long posing sessions. Making the spirit surge forth in a sweet and innocent mind, something not yet realized, that dates back to the beginning of time and must be preserved at all costs... There is nothing riskier or more difficult than to render a bright gaze, the barely tactile fuzz of a cheek, the presence of a barely perceptible emotion like a heaviness mixed with lightness on a pair of lips. But the body and facial features were not my only focus. That which lay beneath their bodies and features, in their silence and darkness, was of equal importance” (Balthus, Vanished Splendors, A Memoir, New York, 2001, pp. 65-66).
Petit nu à la coiffeuse, painted in 1952, shows a young girl combing her hair in front of her dressing table. The composition is defined by the windowless walls in the background, which lend the scene an intimate atmosphere. Balthus is best known for his depiction of adolescent girls and their passage from childhood to young womanhood. Petit nu à la coiffeuse is a wonderful variation of the theme, capturing the awakening of the body by bringing together a state of happy innocence and the model’s womanly features. Other works from the series include Nu devant la cheminée at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York (see fig. 1).
Balthus was self-trained and learned by copying the old masters. He worked his compositions extensively and celebrated his craftsmanship by preparing his own pigments, referring to himself as artisan rather than artist. The theme of the woman at the dressing table itself has a long tradition in art history and can be traced back to the great classical painters whom Balthus admired and emulated in his own art.