Portrait de Femme en Robe Bleue
Date 1935
Medium Oil on panel
Dimensions 80 x 53.5 x 2 cm
Inventory ID UID 102-36
An impression of absence, silence, withdrawal, and incommunicability emanates from this enigmatic portrait of a ‘bourgeois’ woman in her living quarters, holding a book in her hand and staring at the spectator. It is not a person that Balthus is painting but the relationships of absence and silence that connect her to her environment and to her tragic solitude in the world. The strangeness of the portrait also stems from the disproportionate size of the head in relation to the body and of the hieratic nature of the figure and the austerity of the background. No record exists of the name of the model but she is known to have been the wife of Georges Hilaire, who became sub-prefect of Pontoise in 1936. He was to become the right-hand man of Pierre Laval, a senior official in the Vichy regime who was appointed Secretary-General for the Fine Arts by Maréchal Pétain in 1944. A preparatory drawing exists (pencil, 1935, 36.4 x 23.4 cm) which does not greatly differ from the painted work. A portrait entitled Le Préfet de Pontoise [The Prefect of Pontoise, oil on canvas, 1936], which shows the sub-prefect sitting in a garden chair, is also known to exist. The paintings do not form a pair. Nothing is known of the relationship between the painter and these two models. It is not known whether the sub-prefect had any particular interest in the arts which might explain his ministerial role in 1944. At the time when these pictures were painted, Balthus produced numerous commissioned portraits, such as those of Madame Pierre Loeb, Lady Abdy, the Mouron-Cassandre family, Lelia Caetani, Sheila Pickering and the Viscountess of Noailles. AC
Georges Hilaire; Georg Waechter Memorial Foundation; acquired at Sotheby's, New York, 1 May 1996.