Artistic tricks to send a message

In the previous post, I asked what tricks did Balthus employ to make this work erotic. Just a single (although brilliant) answer from my loveable reader Akmerf makes me doubt anyone else is actually reading this blog (not just watching). Anyway, I’ll cover one of his paintings now.

First question, when you judge a work of art is “What do you see in there?

What we see happening:

– girl, who is NOT asleep, but lies back, closing her eyes
– feeding cat

What we see in terms of colours:

– girl in red and white against the backdrop of greenish blue
– two glass vases on the table, one dark and one lightly coloured
– a carton or tin cylinder on the table, with one side painted red, and the other in white
– white cloth
– striped wallpaper

Now is the time to ask the WHY questions.

Why is the girl sitting in this way? What is her motivation?

She’s feeding on the warmth of the sun just like the cat is feeding on food from the bowl.

Why is the girl done in red and white?

Red – passion
White – innocence
There’s more white in this painting. Yet.
The cylinder painted red and white subtly implies that a rounded, whole person is a balance of red and white in equal measure

The girl knows she’s being watched. But she is innocent enough NOT to care about the watcher’s feelings. Just imagine an adult woman posing in her place. We’d see a different posture.

Oh, the wall paper.

It gives this very still and slow painting its rhythm; it makes the eyes of the viewer travel across it in measured steps.

The role of the light in making this painting erotic:

Light is energy, and essence of life. It caresses the girl, crawling across her body in this painting. She sits in the way that light has to go up her shins, then down her legs, then again up her body, and arms. There are some covered or hidden areas that the light can not penetrate, and this also adds eroticism to the scene.

Where is the conflict in this painting?

Everything is very calm and still. Yet, there’s a lot of energy in this painting. The girl accumulates the energy of the sun like a battery that will one day blow up this regular life into shreds and shards.

The colour conflict is done by putting red against the white, and this conflict is directly related to the message of this painting.


  1. I have missed this post somehow. Great analysis, I agree with you on every point except for one – the man WAS a perv. And his artistic genius makes his paintings all the more disturbing. This is not an innocent girl unaware of her budding sexuality, but the fantasy of a dirty old man. Pubescent girls may not be aware of the full picture but their instinct tells them that something weird is going on and no girl would hold such a pose if she was aware that she is being watched. It is the dirty old man who wishes she did. This is not the feminist speaking here but someone who remembers being a pubescent girl and the gaze of a dirty old man on her. Put it this way: if you have a pre-teen daughter and one of your friends paints her like this, would you think ‘oh, what a celebration of her innocence and budding sexuality!’ or rather ‘I’ll cut his balls off!’

    1. Well, he created some of his most disturbing, or controvercial works when he was young, even before he got married. He was not known to shag his models (like, for instance, Modigliani). He was under a heavy influence of Freudish theories and theorists, that’s true, but I don’t think he himself was a perv. And yes, I won’t allow any artist to do such a portrait of my daughter or son.

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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