of past artists—such as Poussin and Piero della Francesca—Balthus produced art that was filled with paradox, creating haunted worlds that are provocative and poetic. Working in Paris throughout the 1930 s, and achieving a high level of success through exhibitions at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, Balthus fled Nazi France in 1942 and went to Switzerland, where he became a friend of the publisher Albert Skira as well as the writer and member of the French Resistance, André Malraux. He returned to France in 1946 and eventually traveled with André Masson to Southern France, meeting figures such as Picasso and Jacques Lacan, who would eventually become a collector of his work. In 1961 , Balthus began his 18 -year tenure as the director of the Académie Française at the Villa Medici in Rome. In 1576 , when Ferdinando de’ Medici hired Jacopo Zucchi to decorate the walls of this historic villa, he envisioned the house and gardens as a personal museum. Inspired by this history, Balthus embarked on a campaign to restore the Villa Medici in the Renaissance tradition, placing sculpture in the garden and building façade, and restoring the frescoes. The frescos were particularly interesting to Balthus. The dry surface, muted tones and flat stylized renderings of fruit and flowers are all present in Fleurs where the colorful bouquet of flowers is related to the larger work La Vase Bleu , 1963 – 64 (cat. rais. no. P 323 ). In both paintings, Balthus incorporates favorite objects from his studio, his checkerboard tray and wavy mouthed vase, into this Roman aesthetic; and to imitate the surface of a fresco, Balthus experimented with casein, eventually using it, along with tempera, to paint his masterpiece from this period, La Chambre turque , 1965 – 6 (Centre Pompidou). Fleurs is one of only 4 finished oil paintings sold in 2020 in Paris from the collection of Frédérique Tison, the artist’s model and muse, and previously housed at the Château de Chassy in the Morvan.

Balthus, La Vase Bleu , 1963 – 64 (cat. rais. no. P 323 )

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