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Lot 368: BALTHUS
February 6, 2007
London, United Kingdom
PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
PREMIÈRES COMMUNIANTES AU LUXEMBOURG
56.2 by 54cm., 22 by 21 1/4 in.
Painted in 1925.
signed Balthus and dated 25 (lower left) and signed Balthus (lower right)
oil on canvas
Anthony Gross (a gift from the artist in 1930)
Thence by descent to the present owner (on loan to The Tate Gallery, London, from 1975-2006)
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Balthus, 1996
Claude Roy, Balthus, Paris, 1996, illustrated in colour p. 48
Virginie Monnier & Jean Clair, Balthus, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre complet, Paris, 1999, no. P14, illustrated p. 102
Painted in 1925 when Balthus was a mere 17 years of age, Première Communicante depicts young communicants wandering through the Luxembourg Gardens, close to the Rue Malebranche were he lived. It was common practice for young artists to loiter with a sketchbook depicting passers-by, and like many other artists, among them Picasso, Bonnard and Monet, much of Balthus's earliest work depicts Parisians at leisure in these gardens.
The luminous whites of the young girl's costumes against the dark green foliage and atmosphere of naïve, almost medieval, piety recalls the work of Piero della Francesca, who exerted a profound influence on the young artist. After visiting Arezzo in 1926, Balthus wrote that 'The wish to come here and see Piero della Francesca has haunted me for the last five years', and this early work mimics the strange mingling of reality with the otherworldly that characterises della Francesca's work.
This work was a gift to Anthony Gross from the artist and remained in the family ever since. It was on loan to the Tate Gallery, London, for several years, and this is the first time the work has appeared on the market. Première Communicante represents a wonderful opportunity to acquire a work at this early stage of the artist's development prior to his preoccupation with Surrealism.
FIG. 1, Balthus, Enfants au Luxembourg, 1925, oil on canvas, Private Collection