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The painter Balthus, whose tenacity and cultivated taste for secrecy have enveloped him in an aura of forbidding mystery, wrote this memoir at the end of his long life. A man who for decades opted to give expression to the world rather than to express himself speaks for the first and only time about his life, family, work, his theory of art and how it intersects with history, literature, and spirituality.
Balthus was born Balthasar Klossowski in 1908 to Polish art historian Erich Klossowski and his wife, the painter Elisabeth Dorothea Spiro. The family lived in Germany, France, and Switzerland. In this memoir Balthus describes his childhood with his mother and her lover -- the poet Rainer Maria Rilke -- who became Balthus's own spiritual mentor. He evokes la vie de boheme in Paris during the 1920s, his friendships with Picasso, Derain, Artaud, Giacometti, Saint-Exupry, Ren Char, Pierre Jean Jouve, and Albert Camus. He discusses his paintings, offers glimpses into his marriage, and expresses his passion for Chinese art and the Swiss chalets and Italian villas that he helped to restore. He recalls touching moments with his beloved daughter Harumi and the inspiration he drew from his cats. Also, in a kind of final lesson, Balthus shares his thoughts about painting and creation, denounces contemporary art as being illusory and deceitful, and talks candidly about his Catholic faith and how it inspired his work.
We are most charmed by the memoir's ease of expression, as if Balthus were confiding in us, as individuals, writes Joyce Carol Oates in her introduction to Vanished Splendors. We are brought into a startling intimacy with genius.