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Balthus’ Timeless Mysticism

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Jed Perl reviews the exhibition Balthus: Cats and Girls – Paintings and Provocations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, on view through January 12, 2014.

Perl writes: "Balthus’s fascination with the life around him had nothing to do with documenting everyday experiences and everything to do with uncovering the hidden meanings of those experiences. Such meanings, so far as Balthus was concerned, were hermetic and occult, to be decoded like the images in the Tarot deck or the constellations in the night sky. Braque, a painter whom Balthus admired, urged artists to approach their canvases in the same spirit as a medium approaches her tea leaves. We must take Balthus altogether seriously when, late in life, he spoke of 'the elucidation of mysteries' and a search for 'the secret connections among all things.' He believed that the painters he admired most—Giotto, Masaccio, Poussin—demanded of themselves an almost supernatural precision. 'How can one paint,' Balthus wondered, 'except with this deliberate and mystical progress?'"

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