This exhibition is the first retrospective of Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola (1908–2001)’s work in a Swiss museum since 2008 and the first comprehensive presentation of his work anywhere in German- speaking Switzerland.
Balthus had a long and close connection with Switzerland, extending from his later childhood years in Bern, Geneva, and Beatenberg, via his marriage to the Swiss aristocrat Antoinette de Watteville and their time together in the French and German-speaking parts of the country, to the final decades of his life in the Alpine village of Rossinière.
Balthus is viewed as one of the great masters of twentieth-century art, and is certainly one of the truly singular painters of his time. In his complex and multifaceted oeuvre, admired by some and spurned by others, he pursued an artistic approach that embodied an alternative, and a challenge, to modern avant- gardes. In his opposition to prevailing views, he refers to a whole range of art-historical traditions and precursors. Yet in his eccentric detachment from modernism, he developed his own specific avant-garde attitude, which now appears almost postmodern and contemporary.
The starting point for the exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler is Balthusʼs monumental painting Passage
du Commerce-Saint-André, from 1952–1954, which has been on permanent loan to the museum for some time. This enigmatic work epitomizes the artist’s intensive engagement with the dimensions of
space and time in the image, and with their relationship to the figure and the object. With this focus, the exhibition will bring together some fifty important pictures from every phase of Balthus’s oeuvre,
looking also at the strategies employed in the staging of his often provocative images, and illuminating the elements of irony and mystery in his work. His pictures combine tranquility with extreme tension,
and embody a wealth of contradictions, mingling dream and reality, eroticism and innocence, the
factual and the unfathomable, the familiar and the uncanny, in a wholly unique way.
The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, realized with the generous support of the artist’s family, is curated by Dr. Raphaël Bouvier (Curator) and Michiko Kono (Associate Curator). It will subsequently be shown at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.