“A new project with a model starts with a series of studies. I used to draw but now that my eyesight is failing me and it is no longer possible for me to draw as I used to, I am compelled to do my sketches with a Polaroid camera. It is an invariably frustrating and exasperating struggle with my camera whose technical idiosyncrasies elude me, decidedly and steadfastly. Once I have somehow managed to prevail, the actual sitting can begin and I shoot a series of photographs that I use as studies for the future composition…” Balthus

Balthasar Kłossowski de Rola, known as Balthus (born February 29, 1908 in Paris, France − died February 18, 2001 in Rossinière, Switzerland) was a Polish-German-French painter. He grew up in an environment influenced by art and culture. His godfather was Rainer Maria Rilke, and it was he who encouraged him from an early age and gave him the nickname “Balthusz,” which later became his artist’s name.
By copying old masters in the Louvre, such as Nicolas Poussin and Gustave Courbet, and Italian Renaissance artists, Balthus taught himself. This exposure to masterpieces from the past influenced his entire oeuvre. At the same time, he also had contacts with contemporary artists such as Alberto Giacometti, Andreé Malraux and Albert Camus.
As a painter, his subjects were portraits, interiors, still lifes, landscapes and, to a large extent, adolescent girls. These pictures provoked and polarized audiences from the beginning. While some recognize in Balthus’ depiction of young girls a sexualized view that “makes an evaluation of his very personal work difficult,”[1] others are of the opinion that he “never did this in a lewd way, but on a very high artistic level of translation.”[2] The fact is that Balthus quickly became known for the eroticism of his paintings; his first solo exhibition in Paris in 1934 was already considered scandalous because of the permissive depictions. The controversy continues to the present day. For example, Balthus’s painting Thérèse rêvant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017 prompted a public outrage. Because of its covert sexual innuendo, an online petition called for the painting to be taken down.[3]
Like Balthus himself, who led a reclusive life, was considered an eccentric, and revealed little about his background, his painterly oeuvre is often enigmatic and cannot be assigned to any 20th-century art movement. Alongside over 300 paintings, Balthus also created stage sets, book illustrations, and drawings.
When, aged over 80, Balthus could no longer hold a pencil or see well, he resorted to the Polaroid camera. Using photography, he was able to continue to make sketches of his model and thus approach the composition of the painting. In the last ten years of his active working life, he produced staged photographs of a young girl every Wednesday afternoon that he captured in different lighting conditions and moods, always in the same composition, as a preliminary study for a possible painting. Like his sketches, these Polaroid photographs show the slow and meticulous creative process that characterized the controversial painter throughout his life. This method resulted in nearly 2000 Polaroids and his last three paintings during the last decade of his life. The collection of photographs was published in 2013 after Balthus’ death in 2001 under the title Balthus − The Last Studies.

[1] (Status: 6 September 2022)

[2] (Status: 6 September 2022)

[3] (Status: 26 September 2022)

Polaroid book

Balthus. The Last Studies
Steidl, Göttingen 2014
ISBN:‎ 978-3869306858