Balthus - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | Phillips

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  • In 1953, Balthus discovered the isolated Château de Chassy in the Morvan, a mountainous region in France and relocated there as a means to escape the chaos of post-war Paris. He filled the three-story house with ornate objects, fantastical decorations and antique furniture which also served as recurring props in his paintings from this period; he would even trade paintings in exchange for pieces to fill his château. Balthus’ penchant for exquisite objects would lead his mother to tell a friend that her son lived at Chassy “dressed like a workman, yet in surroundings fit for a prince.”i

     

    A year after Balthus settled in the Morvan, Frédérique Tison, his brother Pierre’s teenage stepdaughter arrived at Chassy. Her arrival marked a pivotal moment as she became Balthus’ primary model in the ensuing years. Standing as a turning point in Balthus’ art due to his financial security, the Chassy pictures are “impressive, much larger in scale and full of light and luminous colour…Formal concerns, decorative and surface effects, now take priority over the psychological undercurrents that characterize the artist’s earlier works, especially those created in the stark, haunting studio in Paris.”ii

    "Nothing but a delicate flower threatens to disturb Frédérique as she lies dreaming on the sofa."
    —Sabine Rewald
    One of eleven paintings executed between 1953-1961 depicting the female dreamer, La Sieste, 1958 features the teenage Frédérique reclining over the side of a sofa, asleep and framed by the window behind her portraying the Chassy landscape on a summer’s day. The delicate afternoon light illuminates the room where Frédérique dreams away the day. At Chassy the walls of Balthus’ studio depicted “the traces of his experiments in casein tempera, most notably the face of Frédérique, charmingly full and round as Quattrocentro angel”.iii Many years later after traveling to Rome with Balthus while he was the director of the French Academy in the Villa Medici, Frédérique “began to realise that her true home was Chassy” and returned to “what could have been turned into Sleeping Beauty’s castle, slumbering in nostalgia for a bygone age”; she instead chose to fill it with a “cheerful vitality” after Balthus left.iv By this point, Frédérique, an artist in her own right, carved out her own creative space in the house by transforming the rooms into her studio and showcasing art created by her contemporaries as well as her own sculptures, drawings and tapestries.

     

    A significant art historical trope, the dreamer has fascinated everyone from philosophers and artists to poets and psychoanalysts. For centuries artists especially have sought to depict the dreamer and the places the human mind frequents while we sleep. From nightmares to fantastical places, the way dreams and the dreamer have been depicted is ever evolving.

     

    1765321_FIG 1: Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars, c. 1485, National Gallery, London. Image: Bridgeman Images
    Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars, c. 1485, National Gallery, London. Image: Bridgeman Images

    Often depicted during the Italian Renaissance through sensual scenes from Greek mythology, dreaming came to be a spiritual experience. Under the patronage of the Medicis, the Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino conceived the notion of vacatio animae, “the theory that during sleep the soul temporarily vacates the body and becomes free of earthly bonds”. Even Sandro Botticelli was enticed by the act of dreaming and used sleep to portray love and vulnerability in his depiction of Venus beside Mars as he sleeps, defenseless. “While the theme of dreams gave license for the depiction of pagan and sensual scenes, artists were regularly called upon to represent two biblical dreams: the story of Jacob’s Ladder and Joseph’s interpretation of the Pharaoh's dream… Italian artists seem to have taken little interest in depicting nightmares until exposed to the works of Bosch and other northern painters.”v The 16th century depiction of The Vision of Tundale, “shows not only a hallucinatory Boschian panorama but also…the sleeping sinner Tundale himself experiencing the nightmare.”vi

    "[Artists] have intense fascination with mythology, dreams, religious themes, the parallel between sleep and death, reward, abandonment of conscious control, healing, a depiction of innocence and serenity, and the erotic."
    —Dr. Meir Kryger

    LEFT 1765321_FIG 2, RIGHT 1765321_FIG 3 (CROP TO EDGE OF CANVAS TO REMOVE FRAME): [left] Follower of Hieronymus Bosch, The Vision of Tundale, c. 1485, Denver Art Museum. Image: Album/Alamy Stock Photo [right] Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781, Detroit Institute of Arts. Image: Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Bert L. Smokler and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman 
    [left] Follower of Hieronymus Bosch, The Vision of Tundale, c. 1485, Denver Art Museum. Image: Album/Alamy Stock Photo
    [right] Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781, Detroit Institute of Arts. Image: Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Bert L. Smokler and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman 

    One of art history’s most famous images of a dream, Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare from 1781 depicts not only the sleeping woman but also the subject of her nightmare—the frightening incubus sitting atop her chest. After its first exhibition in 1872 at the Royal Academy of Art in London, critics were both horrified and fascinated by the hauntingly erotic nightmarish scene before them. Later in the 20th century, the Surrealists “used dreams to attack the European culture they hated”.vii “Thus the dream finds itself reduced to a mere parenthesis” said André Breton “as is the night.”viii Salvador Dalí, the movement’s most notorious portrayer of dreams “is a good example of someone who didn’t portray his dreams” but rather “he modelled his paintings on dreams.”ix

     

    LEFT 1765321_FIG 4, RIGHT 1765321_FIG 5: [left] Pablo Picasso, Woman with Yellow Hair, 1931, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Image: Superstock / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Salvador Dalí, Dream caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Waking up, 1944, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain. Image: Bridgeman Images, 
    [left] Pablo Picasso, Woman with Yellow Hair, 1931, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Image: Superstock / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [right] Salvador Dalí, Dream caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Waking up, 1944, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    In 1932, Pablo Picassso created a revered series of astonishingly intimate paintings depicting his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter as a reclining odalisque. Like Balthus’ La Sieste, these paintings are intimate depictions filled with light depicting the tenderness that overcomes a sleeping soul. They follow in the tradition of their Renaissance predecessors who painted sleeping souls resting in broad daylight since “half a millennium ago the night was almost universally believed to be a dangerous time, when the night air itself was poisonous, with thieves and brigands abroad, and witches and incubi going about their nefarious business.”x With its luminous light and delicate composition “nothing but a delicate flower threatens to disturb Frédérique as she lies dreaming on the sofa” in La Sieste.xi

     

    i Baladine Klossowska quoted in Sabine Rewald, Balthus. Cats and Girls, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013, p. 41 
    ii Sabine Rewald, Balthus. Cats and Girls, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013, pp. 42-43
    iii Jean Clair, “The Lure of Chassy: A Legacy of Balthus in the Morvan Hills of France,” Architectural Digest, October 1984, p. 187.
    iv Jean Clair, “The Lure of Chassy: A Legacy of Balthus in the Morvan Hills of France,” Architectural Digest, October 1984, p. 187.
    v Roderick Conway Morris, “Dreams and the Renaissance”, The New York Times, July 26, 2013, online
    vi Roderick Conway Morris, “Dreams and the Renaissance”, The New York Times, July 26, 2013, online.
    vii Drake Baer, “How the Surrealists Harnessed Their Dreams and Made the World Way Weirder”, The Cut, October 14, 2016, online.
    viii André Breton quoted in Drake Baer, “How the Surrealists Harnessed Their Dreams and Made the World Way Weirder”, The Cut, October 14, 2016, online.
    ix Willard Bohn quoted in quoted in Drake Baer, “How the Surrealists Harnessed Their Dreams and Made the World Way Weirder”, The Cut, October 14, 2016, online.
    x Roderick Conway Morris, “Dreams and the Renaissance”, The New York Times, July 26, 2013, online.
    xi Sabine Rewald, Balthus. Cats and Girls, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013, p. 43

    • Provenance

      Galerie Henriette Gomès, Paris
      Private Collection, Paris (acquired from the above in 1991)
      Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 16, 2018, lot 27
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galerie Henriette Gomès, Balthus, June 1966
      Paris, Galerie Henriette Gomès, Balthus, November 1983–January 1984
      Musée de la Ville de Kyoto, Balthus, June 17–July 22, 1984, no. 23, p. 104 (illustrated, p. 69)
      Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Balthus: Un atelier dans le Morvan, 1953–1961, June 12–September 27, 1999, no. 40, pp. 93-94 (illustrated, p. 95)

    • Literature

      Balthus, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, 1983, no. 189, p. 371 (illustrated)
      Jean Clair, “The Lure of Chassy: A Legacy of Balthus in the Morvan Hills of France,” Architectural Digest, October 1984, p. 187 (titled as The Siesta)
      Sarah Kofman, Mélancolie de l'art, Paris, 1985, p. 89
      Jean Leymarie, Balthus, Geneva, 1990, p. 138 (illustrated)
      Claude Roy, Balthus, Paris, 1996, p. 180 (illustrated)
      Jean Clair and Virginie Monnier, Balthus: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre complet, Paris, 1999, pl. P287, p. 181 (illustrated, p. 180)
      Denis Picard, "Dijon: Balthus," Connaissance des arts, vol. 563, July/August 1999, fig. 3, p. 12 (illustrated)
      Anne Doridou-Heim, “Une invitation à la sieste signee Balthus,” La Gazette Drouot, March 22, 2018, online (illustrated)

Property from an Important American Collection

39

La Sieste

signed with the artist's monogram and dated "Bs. 58" lower left
oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 25 3/4 in. (81 x 65.4 cm)
Painted in 1958.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for $1,058,500

Contact Specialist

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+1 212 940 1278
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2022