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Balthus Klossowski de Rola was born in Paris in 1908, in an illustrated family of Polish origin. His father, Erich Klossowski, historian and art teacher, came from the changing territories of Poland. His mother, Baladine Spiro, painter, was the daughter of Russian Jews escaped from the polygroms. After their meeting in Germany, they settled in Paris, where their two children were born. His brother was a famous writer, Pierre Klossowski. Balthus grew up in an environment marked by art. Throughout his house, artists paraded his talent: Pierre Bonnard, his father's intimate and Rainer Maria Rilke, his mother's lover. Famous painters such as Matisse, Bonnard and Jean Cocteau were regular guests in the house. The child was trained in this privileged cultural environment, under the special protection of the Czech- Austrian poet Rilke. Encouraged by him, Balthus decided to learn to paint in the Louvre Museum, where he went every day to copy the great masters.

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In an era full of boiling "isms" triumphing in Paris, he never followed the movements in vogue. In his long sessions as a self- taught painter in the Louvre, he was a disciplined copyist of David, Poussin and Chardin. However, he was never interested in the avantgarde. World War I marked the breakup of reverie. His family escaped by taking refuge in Switzerland. His parents separated and his mother joined Rilke. The poet, who appreciated the talent of the 13-yearold, published "Mitsou", a book with his first paintings and wrote his prologue. The protagonist was a cat. The cat will appear insistently throughout his work, as a silent witness to the indolence of his characters. With them he made his first trip to Italy. There he blew his imagination to discover the Renaissance painters. Piero della Francesca's works in Arezzo and those of Masaccio in the Brancacci Chapel, merged in his mind with the styles of his French admirers such as Poussin and Courbet.

Balthus met his first wife, Antoinette de Watteville, in Geneva. The beautiful aristocrat, was the mother of her two children and posed as a model for some of her paintings as "La jupe blanche", 1937. They lived in Geneva, Bern and Freiburg until, after the war, they could return to Paris. There, he became friends with Picasso and Miró, but he stayed away from his artistic path, despising abstract art. He managed to amaze everyone with the mystery of his figurative compositions, populated by girls in full puberty. Picasso appreciated his painting. According to his memoirs, he told Balthus: “You are the only one of the painters of your generation that interests me. Everyone else wants to be Picasso. You do not”. Picasso His most influential friend was the writer and philosopher André Malraux. In 1961, being Minister of Culture in France, he appointed Balthus Director of the French Academy in Rome where he spent 16 years.

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Neomania #39  

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