Balthasar Klossowski (or Kłossowski) de Rola (February 29, 1908 in Paris – February 18, 2001 in Rossinière, Switzerland), best known as Balthus, was an esteemed but controversial Polish-French modern artist.
Throughout his career, Balthus rejected the usual conventions of the art world. He insisted that his paintings should be seen and not read about, and he resisted any attempts made to build a biographical profile. A telegram sent to the Tate Gallery as it prepared for its 1968 retrospective of his works read: "NO BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS. BEGIN: BALTHUS IS A PAINTER OF WHOM NOTHING IS KNOWN. NOW LET US LOOK AT THE PICTURES. REGARDS. B
Early lifeIn his formative years his art was sponsored by Rainer Maria Rilke, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse. His father, Erich Klossowski, a noted art historian who wrote a monograph on Daumier, and his mother Elisabeth Dorothea Spiro (known as the painter Baladine Klossowska) were part of the cultural elite in Paris. Balthus's older brother, Pierre Klossowski, was a philosopher and writer influenced by theology and the works of the Marquis de Sade. Among the visitors and friends of the Klossowskis were famous writers such as André Gide and Jean Cocteau, who found some inspiration for his novel Les Enfants Terribles (1929) in his visits to the family. In 1921 Mitsou, a book which included forty drawings by Balthus, was published. It depicted the story of a young boy and his cat, with a preface by Balthus's mentor, Rilke. The theme of the story foreshadowed his life-long fascination with cats, which resurfaced with his self-portrait as The King of Cats (1935). In 1926 he visited Florence, copying frescos by Piero della Francesca, which inspired another early ambitious work by the young painter: the tempera wall paintings of the Protestant church of the Swiss village of Beatenberg (1927). From 1930 to 1932 he lived in Morocco, was drafted into the Moroccan infantry in Kenitra and Fes, worked as a secretary, and sketched his painting La Caserne (1933).  A young artist in ParisMoving in 1933 into his first Paris studio at the Rue de Furstemberg and later another at the Cour de Rohan, Balthus showed no interest in modernist styles such as Cubism. His paintings often depicted pubescent young girls in erotic and voyeuristic poses. One of the most notorious works from his first exhibition in Paris was The Guitar Lesson (1934), which caused controversy due to its sexually explicit depiction of a girl arched on her back over the lap of her female teacher, whose hands are positioned on the girl as for playing the guitar: one near her exposed crotch, another grasping her hair. Other important works from the same exhibition included La Rue (1933), La Toilette de Cathy (1933) and Alice dans le miroir (1933).