What Does Balthus’s Widow Think of His Controversial Oeuvre?

Balthus and Setsuko Klossowska de Rola in the artist’s studio at the Grand Chalet in Rossinière, Switzerland
Photo via: The Art of the Room

The French painter Balthus—best known for his portraits of young girls oozing with sexual innuendo—is an artist that elicits radical responses: some love him for his long-lasting talent and staunch vision, while others loathe him for his questionable subject matter (see More Museum Censorship After Balthus Cancellation?).

But, crucially, what’s the opinion of Balthus’s widow, Setsuko Klossowska de Rola—the woman closest to him for almost 40 years—about her late husband’s controversial oeuvre? And what does she make of the long shadow pedophilia has cast over his unique work? (see Lolita Book Covers Are a Tad Oversexed).

Balthus, Thésèse dreaming (1938)<br>Photo: © Metropolitan Museum of Art via Japan Times

Balthus, Thésèse dreaming (1938)
Photo: © Metropolitan Museum of Art via Japan Times

“It’s other people’s opinion and they have a right to that stupid opinion,” Klossowska told the South China Morning Post. “[Do I worry about] Pedophilia? If it is not true, then what’s wrong? Balthus totally has another vision,” she declared, adding that her husband’s work was, in essence, about Eros being a divine nature and the ultimate truth.

Klossowska, Balthus’s second wife, met the artist in Japan in 1962, where he had been sent at the behest of writer and art theorist André Malraux, then France’s Minister of Cultural Affairs. He was 54 and she was 20.

Setsuko Klossowska de Rola at the Grand Chalet in Rossinière, Switzerland<br>Photo via: The Art of the Room

Setsuko Klossowska de Rola at the Grand Chalet in Rossinière, Switzerland
Photo via: The Art of the Room

Love struck the pair quickly and profoundly, but there was a significant obstacle to their burgeoning romance: Balthus was still married to Antoinette de Watteville.

“I should say I had five very, very difficult years until my wedding,” Klossowska told SCMP. “The first wife agreed to the divorce. I was very thankful to her. But there was another girl attached to him, a terrible complication. And I had an adventure with another man.”

But the excitement of life with Balthus proved difficult to match, and Klossowska decided to devote her life to support her husband’s art while he lived, and manage his legacy after he died. “I know that with Balthus there is something. I give my life to him.”

Click below to see a documentary about the art of Balthus:

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