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Balthus: A Biography (Mint First Edition)

Nicholas Fox Weber

30 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0679407375 / ISBN 13: 9780679407379
Published by Knopf, 1999
New Condition: New Hardcover
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New York: [1999]. First edition. First printing. Hardbound. New/New. A pristine unread copy, very fine in all respects. Comes with mylar dust jacket protector. All books shipped in sturdy boxes. Smoke-free enviornment. Purchased new, never opened. 0.0. Bookseller Inventory # 0608-208

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Balthus: A Biography (Mint First Edition)

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:New

Dust Jacket Condition: New

Edition: 1st Edition....

About this title


The first full-scale biography of one of the most elusive and enigmatic painters of our time -- the self-proclaimed Count Balthus Klossowski de Rola -- whose brilliantly rendered, markedly sexualized portraits, especially of young girls, are among the most memorable images in contemporary art.

The story of Balthus's life has been shrouded by contradiction and hearsay, most of it his own invention; over the years he created for himself a persona of mystery, aristocracy, and glamour. Now, in Nicholas Fox Weber's superb biography, Balthus, the man and the artist, stands revealed as never before.

He was born in Paris in 1908 to Polish parents. At age twelve he first stepped into the spotlight with the publication of forty of his drawings illustrating a story about a cat by Rainer Maria Rilke, who was then Balthus's mother's lover and a crucial influence on the young boy. From that moment, Balthus has never been out of the public eye.

In 1934 his first exhibition, in Paris, stunned the art world. The seven canvases drew attention to his extraordinary technique -- a  mix of tradition and imagination informed by the work of Piero della Francesca, Courbet, and Joseph Reinhardt, but unique to the twenty-six-year-old artist -- and to their provocative content; one of the paintings, The Guitar Lesson, was so powerful in its sadomasochistic imagery that it was deemed necessary to remove it from public display.
Continuously since then, Balthus's work has provoked both great opprobrium and profound admiration -- as has the artist himself, whether collaborating with Antonin Artaud on his Theater of Cruelty, transforming the Villa Medici into the social center of Fellini's Rome in the 1950s, or competing for the artistic limelight with his friends Picasso and André Derain.

The artist's complexities are clarified and his genius understood in a book that derives its particular immediacy from Weber's long and intense conversations with Balthus -- who never previously consented to discuss his life and work with a biographer -- as well as his interviews with the painter's closest friends, members of his family, and many of the subjects of his controversial canvases.

Weber's critical and human grasp (he acutely analyzes the paintings in terms of both their aesthetic achievement and what they reveal of their maker's psyche), combined with his rich knowledge of Balthus's life and his insight into the ideas and forces that have helped to shape Balthus's work over the past seven decades, gives us a striking, illuminating portrait of one of the most admired and outrageous artists of our time.


Balthus is as multifaceted and spellbinding as its subject, the 20th-century painter whose canvasses have been likened both to those of the ethereal Piero della Francesca and sadomasochistic erotica. Biographer Nicholas Fox Weber quotes Oscar Wilde when discussing Balthus's most notorious painting, in which a music teacher violently molests her young pupil: "It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.... And so Balthus claimed to me time and again. If viewers find The Guitar Lesson ... shocking or titillating, repulsive or seductive, they reveal only their own psyches, not his." Balthus repeatedly insisted on noninterpretive, pre-Freudian, stylistic observation of his paintings--mere studies in light and shadow, form and shape, composition and color--or so he would have Weber (and the reader) believe.

Weber describes his own psychological near-seduction by Balthus's proffered confidences, and his brief, initial inclination to allow the artist to dominate their interviews. Despite Balthus's gift for prevarication--romance on short notice is his specialty--Weber is astute enough to sift through every possible document. He elucidates Balthus's mother's long affair with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke; her Jewish ancestry, which Balthus denied; the atmosphere of religious mockery among the surrealists; Balthus's marriages and affairs and his obsession with pubescent girls. As the book progresses, Weber delves deeply into an analysis of the artist's psyche. In the end, he achieves remarkable, sensitive insights into the nature of Balthus's character and subjects. He patiently builds a case for the theory that even the artist's female adolescent models reflect his secret selves and fantasies, developed in reaction to many kinds of childhood pain and confusion.

Weber secures every important painting within a framework of historical reference, personal psychology, and stylistic influence. With this he demonstrates his uniqueness among biographers of artists--he actually understands painting, including its technical aspects. A hugely pleasurable read, this book compares to Hilary Spurling's The Unknown Matisse in its erudition and richness of detail. --Peggy Moorman

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