Away from the immediate threat of war, Balthus focussed much of his work on languid and quiet interior scenes. In the present work, the painter juxtaposes a fireplace in the background with the portrayal of a young girl reclining in her chaise-longue holding up a mirror, a frequent iconic pose in Balthus’ works. The reclining girl is a motif which echo the state of sleep and awareness, and on this particular pose the artist writes in his memoirs, ‘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’ (Balthus, Vanished Splendors, A Memoir, New York, 2002, p. 65). Seated in a bourgeois interior, the young girl is caught in the act of admiring her features, echoing the Greek myth of Narcissus and his death provoked by self-contemplation. The influence of the Italian primitives, such as Piero della Francesca, is referenced in the sfumatic glow and light tones of Etude pour Les Beaux Jours. The interior further echoes Matisse’s works from the late 20s, in which background and foreground as well as decorative motifs are fused into one to achieve a very distinct depiction of space.
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