Balthus Paints Lolita

“I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.” –Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

 Entering the Balthus show at the Met we were rudely confronted by a sign. It warned us that this exhibition may be disturbing to some viewers. But what we witnessed instead were eager patrons lusting over a group of exquisite paintings. The object of their desire? Balthus’s erogenous paint handling.

 Now here is an artist who seduces by brush. In this drawing room, Old Master gazes longingly at Modern. This is where burnt umber, venetian red and vermillion are sexualized. Where dry brush plays voyeur to washy underpainting. It is as if Corot or Degas were working in the midst of a Post Freudian world.

 “Yes”, we say. “Yes.”

Tom McManus is a writer and artist working in New York City.