About This Artwork

Balthus (Baltusz Klossowski de Rola)
French, 1908–2001

Solitaire, 1943

Oil on canvas
63 1/2 x 64 3/8 in. (161.3 x 163.5 cm)
Signed and dated, l.l.: "Balthus 1943"

Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1964.177

© Balthus

Balthus was born into an educated and artistic, but impoverished, family of Polish aristocrats who had fled political and economic turmoil to settle in Paris. As a young man, he traveled to Italy to study such Old Masters as Piero della Francesca. Aside from this direct experience, Balthus received little formal schooling; this permitted him to develop his own unique artistic vision. In 1933 Balthus began painting the erotically charged images for which he is best known—enigmatic scenes of young girls lost in reveries that often place the viewer in the position of voyeur.

Balthus spent most of World War II in Switzerland, where in 1943 he painted Solitaire. The striking posture of the girl, deep in thought as she considers the cards on the table, is one the artist used in a number of earlier works. The insistent verticals of the patterned wallpaper create a counterpoint to the diagonal of the girl’s back; the mysterious expression of her shadowed face contrasts with the strong, raking light that defines her delicate, long fingers. These details suggest how carefully Balthus orchestrated the painting’s unsettling emotional tenor.

— Entry, The Essential Guide, 2013, p.280.

Balthus is a master of vague menace and unease. As in many of his other paintings, the artist focused here on the unself-consciously provocative pose of a pubescent girl, thereby injecting something unsettling into an otherwise banal scene. The girl's taut, arching pose indicates a physical restlessness, an impulsive and unrestrained quality, that seems to threaten the normality and predictability of this bourgeois interior. Against the insistent regularity of the back wall, which is covered with striped wall paper and is perfectly aligned with the picture's rectangular frame, the artist has placed every object slightly askew, as if to suggest the disruptive effect of the girl's presence. Many of these objects, especially the open book and box on the chair, seem to reflect, in their disordered state the girl's distracted, bored handling of them. In her restlessness, she seems to have carelessly moved many of the objects from their customary position: the cluster of containers and books stacked on the lower left, the open book and box dumped on the chair, the silver candlestick and cup pushed to the edge of the table. Even the furniture and rug seem to have been disturbed. The activity in which the girl is engaged, a game of solitaire, seems insufficient to contain her pent-up energy. A sense of frustration, of a force and impulse vainly seeking an appropriate channel, pervades the picture.

The muted colors and simplified volumes of Balthus's style of painting hark back to the figurative tradition of artists such as Piero della Francesca, whom he greatly admired. In its tight execution and controlled contours, this style confers to the scene a still, frozen quality that further heightens the feeling of repressed sexual energy expressed by the girl's pose. Painted in Switzerland, where Balthus took refuge during World War II, this picture has, not surprisingly, been interpreted as a metaphor for the restless waiting game of the émigré.

—Entry, Margherita Andreotti, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), p. 174-175.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Geneva, Galerie Georges Moos, Exposition Balthus, November 1943, no. 11.

Paris, Galerie Beaux-Arts, Balthus, peintures de 1936 a 14, November 25, 1946–December 10, 1946, cat. 17.

New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Balthus, 1949, cat. 20, (ill.).

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Balthus, December 19, 1956–February 3, 1957, no.15.

Chicago, Arts Club, Balthus, September 21–October 28, 1961, no. 12 (ill.).

New York, Decorative Arts Center, The Art in America Show, December 7-22, 1961.

New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Balthus: Paintings 1929–1961, March 1962, no. 6 (ill.).

Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The New Gallery, Hayden Library, Balthus, February 10, 1964–March 1964, no. 12.

Minneapolis, Institute of Arts, 50th Anniversary Exhibition, 1915–1965, November 4, 1965–January 2, 1966.

London, Tate Gallery, October 4–November 10, 1968, no. 20, pp. 38, 60.

Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Balthus in Chicago, August 1–November 9, 1980, no. 3, p. 9.

Paris, Centre George Pompidou, Balthus, November 5, 1983–January 23, 1984; no. 28, pp. 58, 69, 160-61 (ill.), 290, 351 (ill.); traveled to New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, February 21–May 13, 1984, no. 27, pp. 108–9 (ill.), 175.

Rome, Scuderie del Quirinale, Balthus: Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, Oct. 24–Jan. 31, 2016, no cat. no.; Kunstforum Wien, Feb. 24–June 19, 2016.

Publication History

Hoffman, Edith. “Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions, New York,” Burlington Magazine, v. 99 (February 1957), p. 68.

Gray, Cleve. “The Art In America Show,” Art in America, v. 49 (1962), no. 4, p. 97, 1961 (ill.), p. 97.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Paintings in Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection (Chicago 1961), p. 1979.

Connoisseur, v. 149 (March 1962), p. CXIII.

Art Institute of Chicago, Annual Report, 1963–1964, pp. 21–22 (ill.).

Russell, John. “Master of the Nubile Adolescent,” Art in America, v. 55 (November–December 1967), pp. 98–103, (ill.) p. 100.

Roberts, Keith. “Current and Forthcoming Exhibition, London,” Burlington Magazine, v. 110 (November 1968), fig. 60, (ill.) p. 644, p. 645.

Leymarie, Jean. Balthus (New York: 1979), p. 131.

Klossowski de Rola, Stanislas, Balthus (London: Thames and Hudson 1983), p. 96, cat. 31, (ill.) p. 31.

Centre Georges Pompidou, Balthus (Paris, 1983), pp. 59, 69, 160–61, 290 (ill.) p. 351.

Clair, Jean. “Eros et Cronos, Le rite et le mythe dans l’oeuvre de Balthus,” Revue del’Art, no. 63 (1984), p. 89.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Balthus (New York:1984), p. 108–109 (ill.) p. 75

Monnier, Virginie. Balthus: catalogue raissoné de l’oeuvre, (Paris, 1999), no. P140, pp. 142 (ill.), 575.

Evelyn Benesch, Cécile Debray, and Andreas Beyer, Balthus: Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, exh. cat. (Electa, 2015), pp. front-back covers (color ill.); pp. 61-62 (color ill. as La Patience).

Ownership History

Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, acquired from the artist, 1948. Purchased by the Art Institute, 1964.

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