Balthus – Competing Considerations

Balthus – Solitaire – 1943 – 161 x 164 cm – oil on canvas

These two lovely paintings by Balthus executed ten years apart remind me of how many notable artists struggled with the competing considerations between composition and information in figurative painting.  Which is to be the primary intent, the level of accuracy or the arrangement and altering of the subject matter to lyrically convey feeling.  The choice is with the artist.

In the earlier painting Balthus leaned towards information, focusing on the the figure and her surroundings to ensure our recognition of the when and the where.  We see it in the furnishings, the decor in the room and the style of her clothing.  We are more involved with the information rather than the compositional relationships.

The composition is beautifully considered but is subordinate to the figurative considerations. This was his intent.
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Balthus – Patience – 1954-55 – 90 x 88 cm – oil on canvas

The second painting has a very different “feel” because we respond to relationships and harmony (either consciously or subconsciously) and these compositional considerations were foremost in his mind when working on the painting.

The rhythms and integrations are magnificent.

Let me begin with his sensitive reduction of the room to three horizontal divisions which provides the sense of place.  The tops of the table and stool add to the horizontal rhythmic structure.  I love the elegant vertical arrangement of the legs of the table and stool, with the candle stick and her upper arms.  Can you feel how the horizontal and vertical structure support and integrate with the figure?

Two magnificent integrations (or site paths) are apparent when we notice how the right leg of the table connects with the opening below her torso and right arm and how her left arm integrates with the cat’s tail.  Please note how the shape of the cat echoes the wonderful opening and is also in harmony with the curve of the top of her hair.

The dark patches on the cat also commands our eye to move across the bottom of the painting ensuring a beautiful rhythm supporting her shoe.  Imagine how awkward it would be to return from her black shoe without them.

The shadow from her shoe, the stool and table legs relate to her shadow on the table top. You are meant to feel the relationship rather than see it.

I must mention the subtle rhythmic support for her left wrist.  We sense connection to the shadow on the table which loops, embracing her focus.  The shape of her hair, the curve of the bottom of her sweater and the curve of the stripe on her skirt return us to her contemplation masterfully.  When we engage on this level we actually connect to the artist’s considerations when developing the composition.

We become engaged with the primary reason for the painting because there is less competitive representational detail.

Let us return to the other painting for comparison.  Take in the fingers on her left hand and the creases on her skirt.  They are very well painted of course but do they lead you away from her focus.  Maybe this is why they were changed in the later painting. There are many other adjustments for you to engage with.

We should be thankful to Balthus for presenting these two wonderful paintings for they do teach us how to appreciate art.

Balthus – A Master of Composition

Balthus - Portrait of Baroness Alain de Rothschild - 1958 - 190 x 152 cm - oil on canvas

When I begin to feel comfortable with my compositions, whether I’m working figuratively or non figuratively, I tend to think of Balthus, as a reminder of how sophisticated composition should be.

From this rich and thoughtful painting I would like to focus on just a few of his elegant considerations.

We will begin with his masterful integration of the figure with the furnishings and structure of the room.  Let’s start at the left with the line in the tablecloth which is angled at the top pointing to the side of the chair.  Our eye then follows along the top of the chair towards the figure.  Now do you see the integration with her necklace and the curve of her house-coat?   I hope you can feel the sense of embracing.  Very sophisticated.

She is further embraced with the curve of the chair arm connecting to a couple of lines in her house-coat, both leading us towards her foot which then connects with the table at the right.  Also, there is a wonderful line connecting her house-coat with the bottom of her slipper or the bottom of her night gown, leading your eye to the verticals of the table up to the bust on the mantel above.  Note how the rhythmic lines in the bust bring us back to her gaze.  I also enjoyed discovering the wonderful parallels of the candles, the Cupid’s leg, the tablecloth, her left arm and in her house-coat.  I mustn’t neglect the stability the precise placement of the oval between the candles provides for the composition.  It has a beautiful relationship with the shape of her head and completes the connection of the bust with the table. Without it the bust would compete with the figure.

Now to one of the most brilliant considerations I have ever had the pleasure of discovering! It is how Balthus blended the Baronesses’ neck with the background.  I hope you appreciate how this exquisite consideration brings our focus to the warmth of her face, and how the coolness of her left arm emphasizes her warmth.

I would be amiss not to point out how the verticals of the fireplace embrace and support her left arm and how the dark vertical anchors the composition beautifully.

There is more for you to discover. I hope you will enjoy engaging with the thoroughness of this masterpiece.

Balthus – ( Rhythmic Integration and Motifs)

Balthus - The Bouquet of Roses on the Window - 1958 - 53 x 51 in - oil on canvas

Balthus shows us how elegant a very popular subject can be.  It’s not the subject, but rather his interpretation and knowledge of composition that makes the painting great.  In this posting I will focus on how he supports, or as I prefer, how he integrates the flowers with the fields and trees behind.

Lets begin with the tree to the right and how the circular shapes in the foliage harmonize with the flowers and also lead your eye towards the bouquet.  Another great relationship is how the top shape in the tree echoes the shape of the largest rose.   Balthus rhythmically uses a circular motif, which is very sensitive and sophisticated.  Also, can you feel your eye being carried upwards from the lower part of the rose through the smaller rose then connecting to the tree through the leaf?   A great example of how poetic integration can be.
I should mention another very sensitive integration.  There is a small “S” like vertical line in the field at the upper right.  I hope you can feel how the line rhythmically integrates with the delicate tree at the bottom right.  It is meant to be felt, even subconsciously, more than seen.

Now to the left of the flowers where the rhythmic movement of the foreground trees integrate beautifully with the bouquet.  I am taken with how the small rose bud flows into the large tree and how the leaf just below the bud integrates with movements in the field, especially the curved one below the tree which harmonizes beautifully with the curve in the leaf.

I have only touched on a very few of many sophisticated considerations in this painting and I hope you will try to discover more of them.  One I would like to mention is how Balthus emphasized the shading in the shutter to connect to the distant hill, the green field as well as the hedge.  Everything is assessed with composition in mind.  I also love the triangle motif harmonizing the fields with the windowsill.  His thoroughness is masterful!

Balthus – (Shapes and Rhythm)

Balthus - Large Landscape with Trees - 1955 - 114 x 162 cm - oil on canvas

 

This great landscape by Balthus is a superb example of the power of shapes and rhythm.  Before we get to that I would like to emphasise that Balthus is conveying a poetic scene  for our engagement, and very aware that most of us will sense the sophistication without the need to analyse the composition.

Now to the great pleasure of analysing his masterful composition.  Lets begin with the powerful large shape formed by the wall at the right and the hedge leading us across the painting to the dark trees at the left edge.  Also the fields could be combined to form the feeling of a very large shape which dramatically draws us in.  For me, the key of this brilliant arrangement of shapes is the power of the angle formed by the wall and the hedge, which contains and embraces the focus of the man and the horse.

The rhythms within this shape are wonderful, and I marvel at his level of contemplation.  I love how poetically every tree supports the communication between the man and the horse.  How the rhythm of the delicate light trees harmonize with their gestures and how the wonderful vertical ones gracefully support the figure.  Note how the right leaning rhythm of the trees ends with ends by connecting to the tree leaning to the left, which in turn is supported by three trees at the left.  Can you feel the harmony?

I will finish with the relationship of the dark tree just above the figure and how it relates, in shape and size, with that fantastic pull in the field above.  One of the best pulls I have seen.  You may carry on, as there are many other beautiful notes for you to discover.

Balthus was a great master of composition.

Balthus – (Rhythm, Integration and Motifs)

Balthus - The Sheep Farm - 1957 - 1960 - 50 x 102 cm - oil on canvas

I find myself revisiting Balthus for his work to remind myself how thoroughly composition can and should be assessed.  I always discover something new, reminding me that there are no limits to refining a composition whether representational or abstract.  I think it’s rather comforting knowing a work will never be fully realized. Time and experience will determine how well we do or assess.

Painting cultivated land provides a wonderful opportunity for integrating and developing rhythm in a painting and Balthus has done it beatufully in this serene farm scene.  We are harmoniously guided through the landscape to the gorgeous group of buildings which Balthus adjusts to harmonize with the land.   There are a number of pathways and rhythmic lines and shapes leading us to the buildings and I will guide you through a few.

Lets begin with a series of parallels which lead you towards the focus from the left of the painting.  Your eye will run along the line with a little shed and you will then feel yourself gracefully moving to the buildings when you sense the rhythmic parallels below.  You are also sensitively directed towards the buildings from the upper left and right of the painting.  I marvel at how he supports the rhythmic movements with absolutely wonderful structure,  integrating the fields with the buildings.  He accomplished this with triangles which provide the primary motif of the composition.

I am very impressed with how Balthus adjusted the shapes of the buildings to harmonize with the land and discovering the reason for that small dark vertical at the bottom was a pleasure.  It provides subtle structure and integrates with a leaning bush above which directs you to the buildings.

I must also the beautiful embracing arch above the large building and how it integrates with the buildings bringing us to the wonderful white shape, which is actually the focus.  When you view the light areas on the buildings can you feel the pull of the tiny white shed at the left?

I will always return to appreciate and learn.