How The Artist Becomes An Admirer, Defender And Representative of Nature

Balthus, “The Golden Days”, 1944 – 1946

Is the heroine of this painting a disgusting dirty little creature trying to seduce the honest worker, probably hired by her parents, to fix the fire-place? How dares she with her vain self-adoration try to distract a person from his task? Look at her sensual pose, at her frivolously naked shoulder and her playful little mirror, already not to mention her legs, as if hypnotizing the worker’s attention. But the noble man sweating near the fire doesn’t dignify the nasty little seductress with his attention. He is a reliable citizen of his community. But what if the precocious young girl enjoying her own mirror reflection and the very feeling of her bodily existence, doesn’t care much about the proletarian “guest” in their house. Can it even be that his presence at the distance makes her enjoy her own delicate appearance much more in comparison with his rude and crude look, with dirt of his clothes, with his dependence on the pay (for the sake of which he came here)? Indeed, her self-admiration is innocent because it’s enclosed on itself, isolated from the world, a goal in itself. May be, that it’s just a phase of discovering her own body – part of growing up, and without this kind of solitary experience our next generation will be inferior, under-human, robotic and stuck in emotional immaturity. And, in this sense the artist’s painterly attention to the girl’s bodily self-discovering is the care about the psychological completeness of future human beings.

Balthus, “Girl with Cat”

The girl feels herself confident in the presence of the cat (look at the size of the cat’s head – he is a real jaguar near her – her bodyguard. She feels herself so natural, so herself. It seems, she is thinking about nothing particular – she is just living, feeling herself, her legs, her arms, soft springiness of her being. She doesn’t need to be fancy dressed or wear makeup, she is alive, and this is more than enough. She is real. And she is precious just because she is real. Nobody needs to bother her with achievements, with material worries about her future, with becoming a child prodigy and superstar. Every minute of her life she learns to be a human being of her age and gender. And she is healthy in her emotional reactions when she meets another human beings. And she is not shy and is not trying to be particularly attractive in front of the painter and the viewing audience.

Balthus, “The Room”

Yes, girls masturbate, but, as you see, only when their breasts start to look womanly (when a girl has ripened, the legal age for masturbation). Of course, this is a joke, but Balthus, not without reasons, wanted it like this, and so we have to follow the artist. The servant-governess opening the drapery to frighten the evil spirits in the room, is indignant that the girl has given herself, her body and soul to the ravages of demonic seduction. But for the girl’s orgasm is not a stolen moment of bliss, but the center of her healthy curiosity toward her own body. For her orgasmic sensation is confirmation of the fact that she was allowed by god to sense and to witness one of the deepest miracles of the universe – the overwhelming physical pleasure right in the center of her being, like a blast if a delirious bliss. The governess thinks that masturbatory pleasure is a dark and dangerous indulgence, that the power of daily light will frighten the crawling demons away, but for the girl still protected by her youth from the superstitious dogmas of human yearning for power and suppression, orgasm is liberation, not enslaving, life, not death.

Balthus, “Terese Dreaming”

Is Terese really dreaming? The cat near her legs is eating with closed (from pleasure) eyes. What if Terese is dreaming like the cat is eating? In other words, Terese is dreaming not with dreams, but with sensing her body feeling the pleasant coolness of the air around her face, legs and opened arms. May be, she is enjoying the very contrast of the quiet cool air and hotness of her body. May be, she is mesmerized by the tender contrast between herself and the world, contrast as the first step towards a passionate embrace with the world she will be able to realize later, as a woman, in her life.


For people whose sexual education is prudish and as denotative as a condom to see a young girl sensually dressed and posing in a chair of blissful solitude is a sex-show for shameless collective consumption. It is because for them sensual grace is de-sublimational, naturalistic experience, not creative inspiration. So, it is not surprising that when they see Balthus’ pre-pubescent girls (jeunes filles) looking in the mirror through the vantage point of their still sharp knees they feel that they have been invited through the opened doors to the vulgarity of free sexual service. In other words, these viewers don’t understand that Balthus is not interested in representing situation signaling to public that the time comes to start to physiologically manipulate their sensual anatomy. For him the girls swallowed by the world of their imagination are in another universe different from the one of sexual function. These girls are as far from sexual interests and desires as butterflies dancing with the air. If they knew about what sexuality is they would be shocked as Catholic nuns. What they’re experiencing when they make themselves objects of mirror-reflection and sensual self-examination is sensually spiritual involvement with a moment, not sexuality invented by the god of nature experimented with human reproduction, physical domination and the psychological mechanisms of amorous seduction, surrender and domination.

Freudian “infantile sexuality” is different from sexuality as adults learn to understand it, what convention knows as “infantile sexual games” is stubbornly autonomous from what “pragmatic” orthodoxy sees as a perspective of “sexual maturation” into “mature forms of sexual self-realization”. Balthus’ pre-pubescent or early pubescent girls are fixated on their own strange autonomous self-world full of mysterious and irrepressible surprises. This world is centered on sensual – pre-sexual orgasmic sensation where the very creaturely-ness of pre-female body-soul became the focus of girls’ glorious self-absolutization.

The fragile and dependent pre-adolescent girl in her unconscious eyes become princess without any intentional perspective of becoming a queen. In her imagination she, as if, becomes bodily – eternally angelic, without any dream of “maturing” into goddess. She becomes eccentric miracle of nature or its magic trick. She becomes unexpected, extravagant flower of nature.

In other words, Bathus’ girls are a work of art. They’re first a self-creating archetype in collective unconscious, before particular girls could chose it as their absolutized but temporary identity and Balthus as an artist could notice it. The girls of Balthus’ imagination are rebellious “phantometts” in the very depth of human psyche. The term nymphet is a male-centered – a projection of adult men defining the object of his sexual desire, and is inapplicable to Balthus’ context. Sexual desire and sensual self-admiration/self-adoration are cardinally different passions and carry different rituals. Balthus’ girls are, as if, challenging the mandatory nature of the phases of human maturation as a biological obligation, as a law of life.

The girl-phantominas/phantomettas of Balthus’ art are examples of how life may transform into works of art. This mutation of human sensibility is isolated from the world and the time regular people live by. It’s example of self-mobilized moments of childhood giving battle to conformist normality, frightened and despotic, routinized and routinizing. The girls – sensual heroines of their own imagination, want to be something – not gay, not transgender, not deviants, not sexual pets of males, but carriers of their own irresistibility, tremendousness and uniqueness.

Balthus admires them for daring, and he encourages/creates their daring and at the same time is grateful to them for giving him the artistic chance to build his art on their existence.

Balthazar Klossovski Count de Rola (Balthus) Self-portrait