Raymond Mason on Balthus, excerpts – penetrated by beauty & ‘fantastic class’

I was on intimate terms with several important families, and for some time was penetrated by the beauty, still more the grace, of a society which ten years later had ceased to exist. …

Whiskey … was firmly established at the drink indispensable to conversation, and everyone smoke Gauloises, having never heard it said how harmful, even deadly, those little marvels were. In fact, while art brought us together and politics at times divided us, the atmosphere was largely dominated by laughter, and of this company of brilliant and witty men – and women, of course – the most amusing was without contest Balthus. …

– Raymond Mason, At Work in Paris: on Art and Artists, Thames and Hudson, New York, 2003, p. 75

Balthus represented the great attempt at permanence in a neurotic avant-garde climate committed to perpetual change. In the years that followed, when painters would alter the rules a thousand times in order to succeed more quickly, Balthus would take up the challenge of equalling the great painters of the past. To find a new solution to the problem, you have to keep the problem intact.

– Ibid., pp. 76-77

In the note: The closest contemporary to Balthus is Francis Bacon (born in 1909). I see them as the duality of the classical and the romantic encountered elsewhere within a single generation.

– Ibid., p. 76

I recognised in Balthus the second pillar, with Giacometti, on which a new art of the figure and of the figurative world could be built.

– Ibid., p. 78

Balthus’s painting immediately struck me as the epitome of breadth, with, from one edge of the canvas to the other, form rolling about form, cheeks well-rounded, eyes wide-set, the gesture monumental and ample. With, transcending that space, the artifice of composition, that sublime intellectual activity which I consider to be the ne plus ultra of art.

This plenitude, which was the first thing to captivate me in his work, and which captivates me to this day, is that of the theatrum mundi. The stage in his work is large.

– Ibid., p. 78

Without him, I think, sentiment would have died. Because the ‘what’ has the edge over the ‘how,’ people think him somehow not modern. The manner today must be perfect, and in many artists’ work it is. But the temptation of the great and the complex, even if this means failing, would be far more salutary in an age which oversimplifies everything.

– Ibid., p. 79

Picasso, a great one for pacing the stage, admired Balthus (and vice versa, let us note). They were two sides of the same coin, he said. There is his customary genius in that remark. They do curiously have the same histrionic gift. Two men of the theatre – dramatic, poetic, no matter. The theatre presupposes an audience, it is intended for others.

We are that audience.

– Ibid., p. 80