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.

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