The Mountain

Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski) (French, Paris 1908–2001 Rossinière )

Oil on canvas
98 x 144 in. (248.9 x 365.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Nate B. Spingold and Nathan Cummings, Rogers Fund and The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund, by exchange, and Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1982
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
  • Description

    "The Mountain" is one of Balthus's most important early works. Completed in 1937, three years after the artist's first one-man exhibition, at age twenty-six, this majestic panorama is also his largest canvas and one of the few that depicts figures in a landscape. First exhibited in 1939 with the title "Summer," it remains the only completed painting in a projected cycle of the four seasons.

    Painted in objective and exacting detail, the realistic figures and landscape seem at odds with the Surrealistically contrived narrative. Seven figures are located on an imaginary plateau near the top of the Niederhorn in the Bernese Oberland, a landscape familiar to Balthus since childhood. Either intentionally or unintentionally, the figures seem unaware of one another. Their gaze is trancelike and one young woman is actually asleep on the ground. While the connection between the figures is ambiguous, there is a direct correspondence between the shape and posture of each person and the surrounding mountain formations.

    As a young man Balthus made the obligatory trip to Italy and France to study the work of the Old Masters, including Piero della Francesca, Nicolas Poussin, and Gustave Courbet. In this masterwork of his early years, Balthus pays homage to the strong simplified forms of della Francesca and the cultivated awkwardness of the figures of Courbet.

  • Provenance

    the artist (until 1939); [Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1939–82]

  • Exhibition History

    Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Large Scale Modern Paintings," April 1–May 4, 1947, checklist no. 18.

    Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Balthus," December 19, 1956–February 3, 1957, no. 7.

    New York. Pierre Matisse Gallery. "Balthus: Paintings 1929–1961," March 1962, no. 5.

    Cambridge, Mass. New Gallery, Hayden Library, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Balthus," February 10–March 2, 1964, no. 6.

    London. Tate Gallery. "Balthus," October 4–November 10, 1968, no. 6.

    Marseilles. Musée Cantini. "Balthus," July–September 1973, no. 4.

    Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales. "Modern Masters: Manet to Matisse," April 10–May 11, 1975, no. 2.

    Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria. "Modern Masters: Manet to Matisse," May 28–June 22, 1975, no. 2.

    Museum of Modern Art, New York. "Modern Masters: Manet to Matisse," August 4–September 1, 1975, no. 2.

    Venice. Biennale. "Balthus," May 29–September 29, 1980, no. 2.

    Paris. Centre Georges Pompidou. "Les Réalismes 1919–1939," December 17, 1980–April 20, 1981, unnumbered cat. (p. 213).

    Paris. Centre Georges Pompidou. "Balthus," November 4, 1983–January 23, 1984, no. 15.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balthus," February 29–May 13, 1984, no. 14.

    Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Balthus," June 17–July 22, 1984.

    Musée cantonal des Beaux Arts de Lausanne. "Balthus," May 29–August 9, 1993.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Painters in Paris: 1895 1950," March 8–December 31, 2000, extended to January 14, 2001, unnumbered cat. (pp. 108–9).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balthus Remembered," March 27–May 27, 2001, no catalogue.

    Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Picasso and the School of Paris: Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," September 14–November 24, 2002, no. 64.

    Tokyo. Bunkamura Museum of Art. "Picasso and the School of Paris: Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," December 7, 2002–March 9, 2003, no. 64.

    Cologne. Museum Ludwig. "Balthus," August 18–November 4, 2007.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.

  • References

    Pierre Jean Jouve. "Balthus." La Nef (September 1944), p. 144.

    John Russell. Balthus. Exh. cat., Tate Gallery. London, 1968, pp. 14–15, 37, no. 6, ill. p. 49.

    Yves Bonnefoy. "L'invention de Balthus." L'Improbable et autres essais. rev. and enl. ed. (1st ed., 1959). Paris, 1980, p. 48.

    Jean Leymarie. Balthus. 2nd enl. ed. New York, 1982, pp. 31–34, ill.

    Stanislas Klossowski de Rola. Balthus. London, 1983, pl. 10–11.

    Lisa M. Messinger. "Twentieth Century Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1982–1983. New York, 1983, p. 60, ill. (color).

    Sabine Rewald. Balthus. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, pp. 82–83, no. 14, ill. (color).

    Gary Tinterow et al. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 8, Modern Europe. New York, 1987, pp. 148–49, colorpl. 126.

    Sabine Rewald. "Balthus's magic mountain." Burlington Magazine 139 (September 1997), pp. 622–28.

    Grace Glueck. "When One City Was the Heart of Art's Youth." New York Times (March 10, 2000), p. E39, ill.

    Virginie Monnier and Jean Clair, eds. Balthus: Catalogue Raisonné of the Complete Works. New York, 2000, p. 132, no. P102, ill.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York, 2012, p. 419, ill. (color).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History