illustrated excerpts from the memoir of Balthazar Klossowski de Rola, Balthus

because of his dandyism, his heart’s aristocracy

– Balthus on Pierre Jean Jouve, in Vanished Splendours, A Memoir: Balthus, as told to Alain Vircondelet, trans. Benjamin Ivry, Harper Collins, New York, 2002, p. 160

Une joie souterraine est partie loin de moi
Blanches hanches! je cours et recours et brandis vers!
Je soulève le beau vêtement
Reculé dans les parfums les plus chaud et les plus noirs
J’épuise dans ses bras
La chaleur de Saturne et la désolation de l’ardeur
Je tremble encore une foirs jusqu’à perdre la raison
A cause des rutilants soleils de la privation future

Les azurs sonnent clair
Les dents blanches sont ivres
Les silences des hanches quand les oiseaux du temps
Ont presque fini de vivre

– Pierre Jean Jouve, 1937

An underground joy goes out from me
I run around and around waving my arms.
I lift up your beautiful dress
And recoil in the hottest and blackest of perfumes.
Strength drains out of my arms.
The heat of Saturn. The desolation of ardour.
I still tremble as though I had lost my reason,
Because of the bright red suns of future privation.

The azure sings clearly.
The white teeth are drunk.
The silences of your haunches when the birds of time
Have almost stopped living.

– Kenneth Rexroth

– Balthus, Colette’s Profile, 1954, bought back by Countess Setsuko to hang on the walls of le grand chalet, Rossinière

To paint is to emerge from yourself, forget yourself, and prefer anonymity, sometimes while contradicting your own time and those close to you. … Cling to what you believe is right at all costs, and even develop what I – like nineteenth-century dandies – always called the “aristocratic taste for displeasing.” …

– Ibid., pp. 233-234

– Masaccio, Adam and Eve, detail

There is no painting without memory, or in scorning a past that I find nourishing and fruitful.

– Ibid., p. 178

– Victor Vasarely, Zebra, 1944

– Bernard Buffet, Clown, 1999

– Salvador Dalí, The Hallucinogenic Toreador, 1970

…one can’t earn much money. But is that really the goal? … I think of the “thing” that triggers a fortune, that might have slotted me into a category forever, as in the careers – rather than vocations – of Salvador Dalí, Buffet, or Vasarely. They vied with each other to produce canvases that can be recopied, but did not advance knowledge by an inch.

– Ibid., pp. 233-234

– Eugène Delacroix, Woman with a Parrot, 1827

It took me years of work to reproduce the chalky matteness of Masaccio’s and Piero della Francesca’s paintings. Among my contemporaries, I feel that Picasso was the only one who merited the title of a great painter; he understood self-unawareness and felt humility before Delacroix’s genius. Like myself, he lamented when making copies of Delacroix; he would speak of himself in the third person, whining, “What a tragedy! Picasso knows nothing!”

– Ibid., p. 178

– BalthusLes Enfants Blanchard, 1937, chosen by Picasso

I believe that mirrors and cats can help in personal crossings [passages]

– Ibid., p. 176

– Balthus, Le Chat de la Mediterrané, 1947

My duty as a painter has always been to try to preserve colours, and bear witness with the colours that Italian painters used to highlight their paintings and express wonderment. How can this astonishing palette of colours be maintained when modern society, full of death and artifice, has distorted colours, perversely making them hard and unrelenting, when colour should be a passage, a way to get across, a path for going beyond visible forms?

I think of the yellow mustard gas that killed so many men in the trenches in the First World War, and the blue gas that annihilated Jews in the camps. We’ve managed to make colours that kill, as sowers of death. …

Giotto’s chalky blue and Poussin’s vibrant yellow wheat. Giacometti was enraptured by the inaccessible mystery of faces and flowers.

– Ibid., p. 225

– Alberto Giacometti, Tête Noire, 1960

what I am whispering here is nothing but whispering words, pronounced in a minor key

– Ibid., pp. 184-5

– Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, Self-Portrait, aged 15, 1896

I usually say to those who ask me about old age or the spirit of childhood, “The best way not to fall into second childhood is never to leave childhood to begin with.”

– Ibid., p. 209

praise time

– Ibid., p. 172

It’s a question of going farther than what reality displays, although what is “farther” is also part of reality.

– Ibid., p. 197

– Balthus, The Guitar Lesson, 1934

One day when [Claude Roy] visited me at the Villa Médicis, we drolly looked up the article on Balthus in a dictionary – the Robert, I believe – and laughed heartily at the definition; my painting was described as “glaucous” [glauque]. What could they have meant by that? Insofar as glauque means “blue green in colour,” we didn’t see any connection. Was the word used in its moral meaning, namely “perverse, dubious, and steeped in a shady world”? Of course, that’s the way the adjective was used. This nonsense about my painting made me smile. I secretly notices that it wasn’t entirely disagreeable to be thought of in this way. The young girls I’ve sketched and portrayed, including the willfully scandalous Guitar Lesson, can be seen as revealing compulsively erotomaniacal behaviour. I’ve always refuted this, seeing them as angelic heavenly images. But the worlds of some of my friends, from Artaud and Jouve to Bataille, are not entirely innocent. These friendships were not fortuitous. From there, it’s possible to imagine a relationship between their worlds and mine. In truth, I believe in the profound duality of people; my requirement of work as the byword of a painter’s task has something religious, ascetic, and even Jansenist about it. My fierce solitude, and what Jouve called my “skittish disdain,” make me think of the legacy of a Don Juan permeated by the absolute and ideal. There’s nothing glaucous or pernicious in this ambiguity. Only shared amounts of desire and suffering. When I speak of angels and the troubling grace of some of my young girls, don’t forget that the most dazzlingly radiant and glorious fallen angel was Lucifer.

The adolescent agitation of my young girls’ bodies reflects an ambiguous nocturnal light along with a light from heaven.

– Ibid., pp. 203-204

– Balthus, Nu Au Folard, 1982