Lot 20
  • 20

BALTHUS | Étude pour “Le Salon”

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Balthus
  • Étude pour “Le Salon”
  • Oil on panel
  • 19 1/2 by 23 1/2 in.
  • 49.5 by 59.7 cm
  • Painted in 1941 at Champrovent, Haute-Savoie.


Marguerite Caetani, Duchess of Sermoneta (acquired from the artist)

Sale: Christie’s, London, December 5, 1983, lot 34

Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York

Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich

Vivian Horan Gallery, New York

Mr. & Mrs. Roger Berlind, New York (acquired from the above and sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 3, 2005, lot 7)

Acquired at the above sale


Sabine Rewald, Balthus (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1984, fig. 112, illustrated p. 102

Jean Clair & Virginie Monnier, Balthus, Catalogue Raisonné of the Complete Works, Paris, 1999, no. P132, illustrated p. 140

Sabine Rewald, Balthus: Cats and Girls (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013, fig. 54, illustrated in color p. 94

Catalogue Note

Encompassing Balthus’ recurrent themes of adolescence and insouciance, the present work is a study for two monumental canvasses of the same subject, both titled Le Salon. 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. It was the parlor at Champrovent which provided the setting for this study and the larger related canvasses. Based on the present work, the first large-scale oil painting was begun in the same year, and shows slight adjustments made in the feet, arms and clothing of the two figures (see fig. 1). Before finishing the first iteration of Le Salon in 1943, however, Balthus completed a second, more detailed version of the subject in 1942, now at The Museum of Modern Art in New York (see fig. 2). In addition to the subtler cast of light in the second canvas, the 1942 work witnesses additional flourishes in the carpets and furniture, as well as the replacement of the bowl of fruit with a pitcher and the addition of the farmer’s cat.

Georgette, the thirteen-year-old daughter of the farmer at Champrovent, served as the model for both figures in this painting. Seen sleeping on the sofa, she is the image of fantasy and carefree abandon. Several decades later, Georgette recalled posing for this series of works, stating that “Balthus had me kneel on the floor reading a book. But I did not care for books. And when I rested on the sofa, I would go to sleep” (quoted in Sabine Rewald, op. cit., 1984, p. 102). The figure on the floor, reading a book, also echoes the pose of Thérèse Blanchard in an earlier painting by Balthus, Les Enfants Blanchard (see fig. 3).

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 (see fig. 4). 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.

Discussing the artist’s treatment of children in his work, Sabine Rewald has observed: “Balthus never casts his children as pretty objects, depicted with bowls of fruit, mantel clocks, and patterned table covers in an overstuffed Victorian interior, as did the American painter John Carlin in his Forbidden Fruit. Instead, set against a harsh background, they appear all-important, as they would to someone their own age. The Balthusian children, when awake, rarely smile. They remain remote, pensive, lost in daydreams. These dreams sometimes produce languid abandon, at other times they induce the gangling postures that convey the sexual ambiguities that are part of puberty” (ibid., pp. 40-41). The series of Le Salon pictures, however, represent a departure from the usual setting described by Rewald insofar as the figures are placed in a petit-bourgeois interior, to which the artist paid as much attention as he did his characters. Describing this particular setting, Rewald identifies it as the farmhouse parlor, used only on holidays. At the time of Rewald’s interview at Champrovent in 1981, the entire parlor at the farmhouse seemed to exist untouched; the featured Napoleon III sofa and piano preserved as in the present work for many decades to follow.