Celebrities in Switzerland: Balthus
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Balthus (1908 - 2001) France / Painter / VD

Considered a living legend of painting, Balthus lived 23 years in Rossinière in an area known as the Pays d'Enhaut or Highlands. Balthazar Klossowski de Rola was born in 1908 in Paris to a family of Polish artists. In 1917, his family moved to Bern and then to Geneva. Each summer, they vacationed on the Beatenberg near Thun.

At the age of 13, Balthus had already produced an album of drawings entitled Mitsou le Chat, prefaced by poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Rather than attend art school, Balthus copied Renaissance masterpieces at the Louvre, as well works by his favorite artist, Nicolas Poussin.

In 1933, he created a stir with his painting La Rue, where the characters seem to be separated from the world. He became friends with Antonin Artaud and Giacometti. Four years later, he produced La Montagne, which was inspired by his visits to the Bernese Oberland. In 1943, Balthus exhibited his paintings in Geneva and lived in the Villa Diodati, once the home of Lord Byron.

The artist's works are distinguished by his depiction of cats and young girls in paintings touched with mystery. He had become famous by 1961, and was appointed director of the Académie française at the Villa Médicis in Rome by his friend André Malraux. He held the position until 1977, receiving many illustrious guests such as Fellini and Visconti. The painter sometimes took 10 years to complete his works, even though he worked over 11 hours a day.

During a trip to Switzerland in 1977, Balthus stopped for some tea at the Grand Chalet de Rossinière, a hotel in the Pays d'Enhaut in the Vaud Alps. This hotel had already accommodated such renowned guests as Victor Hugo, Alfred Dreyfus and the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was won over my this 18th-century residence with 113 windows, and which is considered the largest chalet in Switzerland. He decided to buy it.

Balthus retired to his secluded nest in the Pays d'Enhaut, finally obtaining the sought-after anonymity and escaping from interviews with journalists. Over the years, the painter could thus drop out of sight, to the great dismay of art critics.

He lived with his Japanese wife, Setzuko, and their daughter, Harumi. He worked only by the light of day, from sunrise to sunset, surrounded by his many cats. Balthus painted some 300 works that collectors snap up for a fortune. He passed away on February 18, 2001, only 10 days before his 93rd birthday.

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