A Balthus Painting From the Same Series That Drew Protests at the Met Is Expected to Fetch as Much as $18 Million at Auction

The painting is the top lot of the Dorothy and Richard Sherwood Collection, which will be offered at Christie’s this May.

Balthus, Thérèse sur une banquette (1939). Courtesy of Christie's.

Two years ago, a provocative painting by Balthus stirred up a controversy that extended well beyond the art world. Now, a painting from the same series is expected to sell for as much as $18 million at auction.

Thérèse sur une banquette, a 1939 canvas that depicts a 14-year-old girl balancing atop a bench, will be offered at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern art evening sale on May 13. It’s one of many well-known works from the collection of the late Los Angeles County Museum of Art president Richard Sherwood and his wife Dorothy, a dedicated art advocate who died last fall, that will be offered across the auction house’s 20th Century Week. Other works from their collection will appear in sales of American, Indian and South Asian and Japanese and Korean art, and Picasso ceramics.  

Thérèse sur une banquette is the last in a series of 10 portraits the Polish-French artist painted of his neighbor and muse Thérèse Blanchard. For some, the series is one of the most important of the modernist era. For others, it’s closer to smut. A painting from the same body of work, Thérèse Dreaming (1938), went viral in 2017 when an online petition, signed by over 10,000 people, claimed it romanticized “the sexualization of a child” and demanded it be taken down from the walls of Met.

No such controversy surrounds this later workyet. Estimated to sell for between $12 million–18 million (and guaranteed by a third party), it’s all but assured to break the artist’s auction record, previously set by Lady Abdy (1935), which sold for $9.9 million at Christie’s in 2015.

“One of Balthus’s outstanding achievements, this remarkable painting hung in the Sherwoods’ living room for nearly 60 years, last seen publicly as the cover of the ‘Cats and Girls’ exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013,” Max Carter, head of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern art department, said in a statement. “No better Balthus has appeared at auction and none is likely to again.”

Richard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #32 (1955). Courtesy of Christie’s.

Beloved LA-based collectors and patrons, Dorothy and Richard Sherwood amassed an astute collection of late-19th- and 20th-century artworks by names such as Henry Moore, Stuart Davis, Frank Stella, and Vilhelm Hammershøi. The couple was instrumental in building out a number of cultural institutions in Southern California, most notably LACMA, where Richard served as the board’s president and chairman, while Dorothy was president of the institution’s art museum council.

“Dorothy and Richard Sherwood’s home was unlike any other, as much for the profound sense of thoughtfulness and purpose as the exceptional range and quality of its works of art,” Carter says.

Sherwood, a Beverly Hills lawyer for four decades, died in 1993. The couple, who were also avid collectors of Asian art, donated or bequeathed a number of works to LACMA, including an 18th-century Indian drawing.

Among the works destined not for the museum but rather for the auction block is a major abstract canvas by Richard Diebenkorn, who maintained a long friendship with the couple. Berkeley #32 (1955), which dates from the artist’s early career in the Bay Area, will be offered in Christie’s postwar and contemporary evening sale on May 13. With an estimate of $6 million to $8 million, it is unlikely to exceed the artist’s existing $24 million auction record, set at the same sale last year for a work from his “Ocean Park” series.  

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