controversial French modern artist well versed in rejecting the social and
usual conventions of the art world and society he worked in. To be honest, I
did not know much about Balthus until recently. He was not an artist I studied
very in depth at school, and though I can recognize his work, I didn’t really
understand the artist or his oeuvre until I saw the recent “Balthus: Cats and
Girls — Paintings and Provocations” show at the Metropolitan Museum of
Art. The show opened in September,
and if you are in the New York area and have not yet seen it, I highly
recommend visiting before it closes in mid January. While there are mixed
reviews of the show itself (as is always the case), I think it is important to
keep in mind, no matter what your opinion of the selection of works chosen, or
message behind the curation of the show, that Balthus, above all, was a quirky
character, and this is his special quirky show.
|Balthus, Therese Dreaming, 1938, oil on canvas|
scholar on Balthus, and her lengthy knowledge of the artist allows her to
explore his work starting with his adolescent Mitsou series (a selection of about 40 ink drawings depicting the friendship between a young boy and his cat, made when
Balthus was 11, and published when he was 13), and extending until his middle
aged works. As the title suggests, the show is a bit controversial, and
explores the artists’ relationship with cats (beginning with Mitsou) and
young girls (whom he painted as a middle aged and much older painter), and in
many of these pictures, the subjects collide. The collision of these themes is
not always an active one—though the young girl pets the cat in Nude with Cat, the girl and cat coexist
independently in Thérèse
|Balthus, The Mediterranean Cat, 1949, oil on canvas|
famous works, is one of his most whimsical—The
Mediterranean Cat, which was actually painted as an advertisement and sign
for one of his favorite restaurants “La Mediterranée,” a restaurant at the Odeon in
Paris. Much kitschier than his other works, I found this one to be one of my
favorites. Not only does it not include any nude young girls, but it also
incorporates a light and bright color palette, a nice change of pace from his
moodier, more usual works, and really a win-win situation. Here, the picture
plane is split in two, and a mischievous human-like cat sits ready to dine seaside,
with a knife and fork in his human hands. He has a whole fish on his plate, a
bottle of white wine poured, and a lobster to his right. On the left side, a
woman rows in a boat nearby, and behind her, a rainbow produces the colorful
fish making their way to the cat’s plate. While this work does not seem to bear an
obvious physical signature of the artist’s name, Balthus thought of himself to
be the “King of Cats,” and this is especially evident in his placement of
himself as the focal point. The composition is very balanced and visually
pleasing, making it the perfect carefree restaurant promotion.
a colorful and cheerful cookie that is well worth the time and effort involved.
2 eggs, separated
5 oz. almond paste
10 TB unsalted butter, softened
½ c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
¼ t. almond extract
1 c. all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
3 drops red food coloring
3 drops green food coloring
3 T. blueberry or raspberry preserves—must be a
¾ c. semisweet chocolate, chopped
square pans with parchment paper. In a small bowl, beat egg whites until stiff
peaks form, then set to the side.
Chop the almond paste into chunks about ¼ in.
In a large bowl, mix the butter until smooth and light. Add the almond paste,
and beat for a couple minutes. Add the sugar, beat for another minute, and then
add the egg yolks and extracts. Mix until just combined. In a smaller bowl,
sift together the flour and salt, and then add to the wet mixture in 3 additions.
Add the egg whites in 3 additions, and then divide dough into 3 equal bowls.
Mix the red food coloring in one, green in another, and leave the third plain.
Spread each bowl of dough into a pan, spreading with a rubber spatula. Spread
out, the dough will be very thin, but try to spread as evenly as possible.
every couple of minutes. Be sure to watch the pans very closely, and check for
doneness when rotating, making sure not to burn.
completely. When cool, remove from pan, and let cool on a metal rack. Spread
preserves/jam on top of the green cookie layer. Carefully flip the untinted
layer over the jam, and press firmly. Spread another layer of preserves/jam
over the untinted layer and press the red layer over, lining up the edges of
all. Wrap the cookie layers in plastic wrap, and sandwich between two wooden
cutting boards. Place in a shelf in your fridge, and weigh down with a couple
of heavy cookbooks. Chill for 2 hours, and then flip, recover with books, and
chill for another 2 hours.
rectangular strips, and set on wire racks over rimmed cookie trays. Over a
double broiler, melt the chocolate over medium-low heat. When melted, spoon
chocolate over cookie bars, covering on top and all sides, and smoothing with
an offset spatula. Let chocolate harden over wire racks, and when set a bit
(won’t set completely—will always be a little tacky) slice into ½ inch pieces.
These cookies keep well (if you are able to exercise any ounce of self control)
in an airtight container, and are particularly good on the hour, every hour.