Never-Before-Seen 'Cats and Girls' Artist's Work on Display at the Met
UPPER EAST SIDE — Works by French artist Balthus are going on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — to the delight of cat-lovers.
The artist, known for his sensual portraits of women and felines, is now featured in a new show at the Met called "Cats and Girls — Paintings and Provocations."
The exhibit, which opened Wednesday and is on view through Jan. 12, traces the lineage of Balthus' favorite motif — a "lifelong fascination with adolescence" that led to his most well-known works, "girls on the threshold of puberty, hovering between innocence and knowledge," Met officials say in a statement.
The exhibition that includes 34 paintings as well as 40 ink drawings is organized chronologically, giving some indication that this feline fascination began in Balthus' own childhood, when he was first exposed to art — often in the presence of cats.
These drawings, long believed lost, have never been on view to the public, according to the Met. This is also the first time in almost 30 years that Balthus work has been displayed in America, following a 1984 exhibit at the Met, officials said.
Balthus, whose given name was Balthasar Klossowski, was "born in Paris into an artistic and intellectual milieu," museum officials said. His dad, Erich Klossowski, was an art historian and painter, while his mom, Elisabeth Dorothea Klossowska was also a painter, who went by the name "Baladine," museum officials said.
At age 8, Balthus "posed with his pet cat for a watercolor by his mother," museum officials said. At age 11, Balthus recorded in 40 ink drawings called "Mitsou" his "adventures" with a stray cat.
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, a family friend of the Klossowskis, "was so enchanted by these drawings that he arranged for them to be published in 1921 in the book "Mitsou," the Met said.
The book also gave birth to Balthus' name as an artist. The cover of the book listed the author as “Baltusz” — his childhood nickname, which he later changed to "Balthus," the museum said in a statement on the show.
"'Mitsou' was just one of many examples of cats' enduring "force and presence in the artist's work and life," the museum said.
At age 27, Balthus painted a self-portrait called "The King of Cats," in which he "stands with his right hand on his hip, his left hand gripping his lapel, as a tiger cat rubs its head against his right knee."
The 1949 "Cat of La Méditerranée" is another cat-centric self-portrait in which the artist paints "himself as a happy cat on whose plate a rainbow of fish lands."
Then came the series of 10 portraits of Balthus' young neighbor Thérèse Blanchard. According to the Met, they are his "most perceptive and sensitive portrayals of a young sitter and are among his finest works."
For more information on the Balthus exhibition, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website.