Balthus show reveals artist’s fixation with cats and young girls

Bizarre Balthus show reveals artist’s fixation with cats and young girls

More character study than retrospective, the Met’s provocative new Balthus exhibition has an unsettling undertone
Click here for more images from the Balthus show


Balthus View larger picture

Thérèse Dreaming by Balthus, 1938. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998 © Balthus


If current trends continue, in just a few years all of contemporary culture will be nothing but an unending stream of cat pictures. Newspapers desperate to survive will publish only adorable kitten photos; social networks will strain under the weight of shorthairs and Siamese. The art world is already getting in on the act: witness the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis hosting an internet cat video festival (it drew 10,000 viewers in one day), or White Columns, the avant-garde New York gallery, laying on The Cat Show, featuring “purr-formers in residence”. The Brooklyn Museum recently rehung its august Egyptian collection in a display called “Divine Felines.”


  1. Balthus
  2. Cats and Girls – Paintings and Provocations
  3. Metropolitan Museum of Art,
  4. New York
  1. Until 12 January 2014
  2. Venue details

I wonder whether the Metropolitan Museum of Art had our contemporary cat mania in mind when it scheduled its smart, strange exhibition of the Polish-French painter Balthus – a figurative master in an age of abstraction, and one of the creepiest figures of modern art. You may know him as an anti-modernist with a taste for young girls. His love of cats, however, receives less attention, and in this cat-saturated moment that love might become the dominant one.

The first painting, on loan from Switzerland, is a remarkable, full-length self-portrait done at the age of 27. Balthus is wearing high-waisted yellow trousers and an abbreviated necktie, stepping forward seductively with his left foot while an obese tabby nuzzles his right. On the floor, a stone tablet bears an inscription in English: “A portrait of HM the King of Cats.” He earned the title. In one almost psychedelic work, from 1949, a grinning feline of human proportions sits at a seaside cafe table; a school of fish jumps from the sea on to the cat’s plate, trailing behind it a glorious rainbow. In another artist’s hands this might feel tasteless. From Balthus, this is par for the course.

Balthus self-portrait Cat’s whiskers … Detail from Balthus’s 1935 self-portrait, The King of Cats (1935). Photograph: Fondation Balthus, Switzerland © Balthus

Balthus, born Balthasar Klossowski on 29 February 1908, fell for both art and cats at an early age. At 11, devastated by the disappearance of a stray he’d taken in, the young artist produced 40 memorial ink drawings, each five inches square and done in a forceful black-and-white that recalls the woodcuts of German expressionists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. In the first drawing, the preteen Balthus, wearing shorts, finds the cat, Mitsou, on a park bench. Soon they’re snuggling together in bed, walking through the streets (Mitsou prances on a leash), sitting by the Christmas tree. In the final scene Mitsou is gone and the boy is left alone in his bedroom, sobbing uncontrollably.

Balthus Drawing the line … the final ink drawing in Balthus’s Mitsou series (1919, black ink on paper, 6 x 4 3/4 in). Photograph: Private collection © Balthus

The Mitsou drawings made it into print in 1921 with a preface by Rainer Maria Rilke, a friend of the Klossowski family and, by the way, one of the lovers of Balthus’s mother. Confident, musical, sweet and grim by turns, these drawings – the originals are being shown publicly for the first time, and they’re the best reason to see the show – are much more than Balthus juvenilia. They’re the pistol shot that began one of the most mystifying, frustrating careers in 20th-century art.

He stood at the core of mid-century European culture, a mate of Picasso and Lacan, but despised much of what we now think of as the greatest achievements of modernism. (His brother Pierre Klossowski, subject of a fantastic show at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2006, was the more progressive figure.) He was a vile anti-semite, despite his own possible Jewish ancestry. Born into something like genteel poverty, he later styled himself as a count and told Alberto Giacometti that he “needed a château more than a workman needed a loaf of bread”.

The Cat of La Mediterranee by Balthus Recipe for concern … The Cat of La Méditerranée by Balthus (1949). Photograph: Private collection © Balthus

And, oh, he also had an inordinate fixation on girls who’d just hit puberty. “Little girls are the only creatures today who can be little Poussins,” Balthus said late in life, and this show counterposes images of sly, knowing cats with ones of ostensibly innocent children. The Met, not imprudently, has put a plaque at the start of the show that reads: “Some of the paintings in this exhibition may be disturbing to some visitors.” Only some visitors? They should disturb us all.

Thérèse Blanchard, his first muse (if you can use that word for a child), is shown reclining on a divan with her skirt hiked up, panties clinging to her inner thighs, while a cat sups milk from a saucer. Thérèse is depicted a second time, in bobby socks, splayed out on a bench and losing her balance. One girl is reading a book on the floor, her bottom hiked in the air; another lounges like an odalisque, gazing into a mirror while her bare leg dangles off a settee.

The girls are self-possessed and serious, and Balthus always denied any hint of paedophilia. But get real: these are erotic images of children. Some, especially the Thérèse portraits, show real invention and even a little humour that make them difficult to dismiss outright. Others, especially the mannered domestic scenes of his later career, are barely competent acts of voyeurism. Their inclusion here displays a welcome willingness on the part of the curator, Balthus specialist Sabine Rewald, to present the artist in full.

More a character study than a real retrospective, this show leaves out many of Balthus’s most famous paintings to concentrate on two obsessions that end up rolling into one. Cats may seem anodyne fun to the legions of reblogging obsessives driving today’s digital feline explosion. In Balthus’s world, though, cats have a much more chilling flipside, and they stay with you long after the latest meme has faded


Donated Nazi-themed Banksy painting rakes in more than $300,000 at charity auction – News – Art – The Independent

Donated Nazi-themed Banksy painting rakes in more than $300,000 at charity auction – News – Art – The Independent.


Donated Nazi-themed Banksy painting rakes in more than $300,000 at charity auction



The artist bought a painting for $50 at a charity shop in New York, reworked it, and gave it back




Banksy has reworked a Nazi figure into an oil painting he bought from a charity shop in New York.

After vandalising the painting, he gave it back to the shop, where it is now being auctioned off for almost £200,00.

The Bristol-based artist has called the oil painting, which depicts a Nazi officer looking out onto a lake, “The banality of the banality of evil”.

Banksy, who completes his month-long “artist’s residency” in New York today, bought the original painting from The Housing Works thrift store for $50 (£31).

The artist signed his name alongside original artist K Sager, and the painting has been put up for auction online on

The money raised at the auction will go to The Housing Works, which helps to fund homelessness and Aids initiatives.

The online auction, which is due to close tonight, has already attracted a bid of $310,400 (£193,000).

The painting can currently be seen in the window of the charity shop on New York’s East 23rd Street.

Writing on his website about the donation, Banksy only said: “A thrift store painting vandalised then re-donated to the thrift store.”

Shortly after the painting was handed into the shop on Tuesday, staff received a phone call from one of the artist’s team explaining that the painting was an authentic Banksy.

Staff said the painting had been hanging there for several hours without attracting any attention before Banksy posted an announcement on his website about it.

Works by the artist have popped up around New York City in October, including a statue of Ronald McDonald and a tribute to the twin towers.

Earlier this week, the artist posted an opinion piece on his website criticising the design of the new World Trade Centre, describing the building as a “shyscraper”.

He said: “Remarkably for such a tall structure, One World Trade lacks any self-confidence. How does it stand up without a spine? It looks like it never wanted to be built in the first place.

“It reminds you of a really tall kid at a party, awkwardly shifting his shoulders trying not to stand out from the crowd. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a shy skyscraper.”

For what appears to be his last piece of work in New York this month, the artist spray-painted his name “Banksy” onto a building in the middle of the Long Island Expressway in Queens.

Posters Lost to Nazis Are Recovered, and Up for Sale –

Posters Lost to Nazis Are Recovered, and Up for Sale

Two poster collections that were lost to their owners under Nazi rule in the 1930s are now for sale in Manhattan. Each collection is made up of thousands of pieces, many of them bearing the signatures of designers as prominent as Alphonse Mucha or Gustav Klimt.

On the block: a Swiss tourism poster that belonged to the Berlin collector Dr. Hans Sachs, and was returned to his family after a decades-long fight.

Dr. Hans Sachs

The original owners were Jewish; their families fled Europe before World War II, leaving the collections behind. Stacks of posters were taken to museums for storage after the war and only recently returned to descendants.

The two collectors, Dr. Hans Sachs of Berlin and Julius Paul of Vienna, knew each other and frequented the same suppliers. “They had poster lust through and through,” Nicholas Lowry, the president of Swann Auction Galleries in New York, said in an interview.

Dr. Sachs, a dentist whose patient roster included Einstein, neatly cataloged his 30,000 posters and related graphic art. He also published design magazines and exhibited his holdings across Europe and in South Africa and Asia; the paper suffered tears and creases on the way.

He drew attention to what had been an underappreciated field. “Everywhere an ever-increasing number of circles interested in poster art sprung up,” he wrote in a 1957 memoir. He added that he focused on categories including “forbidden, religious, zoological posters, posters of the dance or festivals, of war and revolution, even plagiarisms.”

The memoir was reprinted this year in catalogs for Guernsey’s auction company in New York. It is offering Sachs posters in batches of about 1,300 each, and the second of three sales (with estimates starting around $500 per poster) will take place on Nov. 22 through 24.

On Dec. 18, Swann will offer about 350 posters (with estimates mostly from $500 to $15,000 each) collected by Mr. Paul, a rolling-paper magnate. He kept track of his 6,372 acquisitions on index cards, listing dates, artists, titles and image type. He had a stamp made for the word “figural” so that he did not have to keep rewriting it.

In the last few years, the meanderings of the Sachs and Paul collections have kept lawyers busy.

During buying sprees in the 1910s and ’20s, Dr. Sachs commissioned aluminum racks for storing his graphics. They narrowly survived two major fires at his homes. In 1938 Nazi officials seized everything for planned museum galleries devoted to the “art of the merchant.”

The Nazis were particularly pleased because the dentist handed over “a considerable number of posters from anti-Hitler election campaigns for their archives, which they had lacked,” he wrote.

On what he described as “the blackest day of my life,” Dr. Sachs was forced to load his own material onto Nazi trucks. A friend helped him smuggle out a few Toulouse-Lautrec posters, which he sold for pittances after he resettled in New York. He studied at Harvard’s dental school and rebuilt his career.

After the war, German bureaucrats told him the posters had been destroyed and gave him about $50,000 as compensation. But he later learned that part of the collection had survived. His efforts to arrange a viewing failed, and he died in 1974, at 92.

His son, Peter Sachs, who died at 75 last month, spent nearly a decade fighting for restitution, eventually retrieving 4,344 posters under a ruling by a German appeals court last year. The fate of the rest of Dr. Sachs’s purchases is not clear. Suzanne Glass, a journalist in Manhattan and a great-granddaughter of Hans Sachs, is making a documentary about the collection, incorporating interviews with Peter Sachs.

Institutions have been bidding at Guernsey’s sales. In January the Museum of Modern Art in New York paid about $2,500 for a 1907 ad for a German satirical magazine depicting a flea leaving a trail of blood drops. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, acquired 10 pieces, printed in France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Netherlands, promoting cigarettes, tires, alcohol, shoes, sports demonstrations and a left-wing newspaper.

Sachs posters have already been exhibited at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach and the Dutch Poster Museum in Hoorn, the Netherlands. The Dutch exhibition catalog shows one of Dr. Sachs’s handwritten labels, “German nonpolitical,” scrawled on paper torn from a dentistry text as the Nazis watched. The catalog also reproduces one of Mr. Paul’s index cards, printed on cardboard rectangles cut from rolling-paper packages.

Mr. Paul wrote notes along the edges of his posters as well, and the Albertina museum in Vienna, which retained them for decades after the war, added their own stamp. But the provenance trail is cloudy.

Swann Auction Galleries

A poster advertisement for a Croatian liqueur that was originally owned by the Viennese collector Julius Paul.

Reinhold-Brown Gallery

Julius Paul

Mr. Paul died at 70 in January 1938, leaving his 6,372 works of graphic art to a nephew, Gaston Belf. Months later, Mr. Belf fled to Czechoslovakia and then New York, and soon afterward, 3,600 of the posters, with index cards, turned up for sale at a Vienna book dealer. (The remaining 2,772 pieces have apparently vanished.) The Albertina bought the group for about $1,000; the dealer’s correspondence about the transaction ends with a hearty “Heil Hitler!”

No one knows whether Mr. Belf, who died at 93 in 2002, was robbed of his collection, abandoned it or sold it under duress. In the United States, he became a hardware wholesaler and an amateur painter, and he occasionally mentioned the family’s roomful of posters in Vienna. About five years ago, Albertina researchers realized that the collection had belonged to Jews who fled, and returned it to Mr. Paul’s descendants.

In addition to Swann, the Reinhold-Brown Gallery in New York is selling the posters on the family’s behalf. Museums including the Museum of Modern Art and the Hungarian National Gallery have been acquiring pieces at Reinhold-Brown on which the ink seems practically fresh.

“The Albertina rarely, if ever, showed them,” Susan Reinhold, a co-owner of the gallery, said in an interview while leafing through ads for soap, New Year’s parties, a bar billing itself as a “beer clinic,” government bonds, poster exhibitions and political parties on the far right and left.

“There’s a lot of bloody posters here,” Ms. Reinhold said, referring to battlefields and war casualties depicted in the propaganda.

Mr. Lowry, at Swann, said that when he examined the Paul works, “well over half of these images I’d never seen before.” And while poster collectors are usually not interested in provenance, he said, in this case, “it makes the story irresistible.”

Next year, Swann will offer Paul posters depicting travel destinations.

Some new owners of Paul material are already reselling it. Christie’s in London has auctioned movie posters depicting a Russian worker trapped in machinery that went for around $22,000, Oliver Twist ($2,800) and a sphinx (which did not sell).

Pretty Handy Girl – A DIY Blog Empowering You to Complete Your Own Project

How to DIY a GIANT artist canvas | Pretty Handy Girl

Have you ever yearned to own a giant piece of artwork but the cost was prohibitive? Or you knew you could create some awesome abstract paintings, but buying large canvases would cost too much. Well, for those hesitant artists, I have this quick tutorial for building your own GIANT canvas!


How to DIY a GIANT Artist Canvas

  • 2×2″ boards for frame supports (two sides, top, bottom and center support)
  • Kreg Jig and pocket hole screws
  • Drill
  • White fabric (canvas material would be best, but use what you have)
  • Staple gun and staples
  • Paint brush
  • Gesso (if you don’t have gesso, primer would probably work fine)


Cut your 2×2″ lumber down to size. Cut your top and bottom the full widths. Cut the two sides and the center support 3″ shorter to accommodate the height of the added top and bottom pieces. Note, if your canvas is portrait (instead of landscape), your support will be a center horizontal brace instead of vertical as shown.

Use your kreg jig to drill pocket holes in the two ends of the sides and the support piece.


Use your drill and pocket hole screws to secure the pieces together.

How to DIY a GIANT Artist Canvas

Lay your fabric on a clean surface.

How to DIY a GIANT Artist Canvas

Wrap the sides up and secure with staples. If your fabric is thin, you may want to fold over the edges once or twice before stapling.

How to DIY a GIANT Artist Canvas

Continue stapling the top and bottom of the fabric until it is taut and completely stapled around the perimeter of your canvas frame.

How to DIY a GIANT Artist Canvas

Prime your canvas by painting gesso on the entire canvas. This will seal the holes in the fabric and prep it for painting.

How to DIY a GIANT Artist Canvas

When the gesso is fully dried, you are ready to paint!

How to DIY a GIANT Artist Canvas

Stay tuned next week  for a video tutorial on painting your own abstract ocean painting!


You may have noticed it on my Fall mantle.

Autumn Mantle Décor and Vignettes | Pretty Handy Girl

Happy Fall Y’all!