Nicholas Fox Weber:
Balthus, A Biography
Nicholas Fox Weber
Nicholas Fox Weber    



  Nicholas Fox Weber is the author of nine previous books, among them Patron Saints, Leland Bell, and The Art of Babar. He has spent many years researching Balthus, A Biography. His study of the life and work of the artist Balthus, self-determinedly known as Count Balthus Klossowski de Rola, was a particularly daunting endeavor. Balthus's story has long been shrouded in mystery, misinformation and apocrypha and can be found only by distinguishing between the lines of reality and the shading of fiction that Balthus has blended as finely as the distinctive and otherworldly pigments to be found in his paintings.

Balthus was born in Paris in 1908. His career began upon the publication of Mitsou, a book of 40 drawings narrating the disappearance of his cat. He was twelve years old. A poetic essay written by Rainer Maria Rilke prefaced Mitsou. Rilke also organized the details of the contract, design and, to some degree, distribution of this book. Rilke was then and for many years Balthus's mother's lover, and he was critical to Balthus's entrée to the highest echelons of Parisian art circles.

Balthus's art has provoked extreme reactions whenever, wherever it has been displayed. The Guitar Lesson (1934), for example, has rarely been displayed in public since its debut at Gallerie Pierre in Paris in 1934 at Balthus's premiere solo exhibition and even then it was hung in a back room where it was concealed behind a curtain. As late as 1978, Blanchette Rockefeller, then chairman of the board at MOMA, declined the bequest of this painting by Balthus's New York dealer, Pierre Matisse, because she deemed it obscene and sacrilegious.

Nicholas Fox Weber has written a masterful study of Balthus and his oeuvre. In doing so, he has conducted exhaustive research on the key figures in Balthus's life as he interviewed family members, close friends, the women who sat for Balthus as children and prior biographers who were less resistant to the allure of the count.

We learn of Balthus's itinerant boyhood in Europe on the cusp of the First World War; his study of Poussin, Courbet and Piero della Francesca; his set designs and collaboration with Antonin Artaud on his Theater of Cruelty; his friendships with Derain, Giacommetti and Picasso; his Directorship of the Villa Medici and his ultimate ascension to the heights of his chateau in the Swiss Alps where he currently resides, an emperor in the mountains, with his wife, Setsuko, a painter in her own right.

In this issue of Bold Type you'll find a conversation with Nicholas Fox Weber, a letter written by Rainer Maria Rilke to Balthus on the occasion of his 13th birthday and an excerpt from Balthus, A Biography.

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