Lot 26
  • 26


3,000,000 - 4,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Balthus
  • Adolescente aux cheveux roux
  • Signed Balthus and dated 47 (lower left)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 25 5/8 by 31 7/8 in.
  • 65 by 81 cm


Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York

Barbara Skelton, Paris (acquired from the above)

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York 

Henry Sage Goodwin, Connecticut (acquired from the above and sold: Sotheby’s, New York, November 14, 1984, lot 67)

Acquired at the above sale by A. Alfred Taubman


Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, MATRIX 65: Balthus, 1981


Barbara Skelton, Tears Before Bedtime and Weep No More, London, 1989, discussed

Virginie Monnier & Jean Clair, Balthus, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre complet, Paris, 1999, no. P 165, illustrated p. 148

Catalogue Note

Balthus is best known for his depiction of adolescent girls and their passage from childhood to young womanhood. The present work 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 Art, New York. These pictures explore the sensuous geometry of the body and exploit the tantalizing potential of a bent knee or an exposed thigh. Balthus depicted his models in variations of this salacious pose numerous times, resulting in the most definitive images of his art. L’Adolescente aux cheveux roux, painted in 1947, depicts the innocence of a young girl combing her hair with her fingers. The composition is defined by the windowless walls in the background, eliminating the outside world and focusing solely on the model at the center of the picture.  

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).

Balthus stylizes and idealizes the bodies of his young models, frequently returning to motifs that have long enduring significance in Western art. The confident posture of the figure in the present work calls to mind the strong and beautifully delineated standing nudes of Ingres. In his memoirs, the artist wrote the following about his depictions of young women: "There is no more exacting discipline than capturing these variations in faces and poses of my daydreaming young girls. The drawing's caress seeks to rediscover a childlike grace that vanishes so quickly, leaving us with an inconsolable memory. The challenge is to track down the sweetness so that graphite on paper can re-create the fresh oval of a face, a shape close to angels' faces" (ibid., New York, 2002, p. 65).