There may not exist a prospect that is simultaneously so enticing and yet so intimidating for a man than the sight of a woman with her legs spread slightly and strategically, so as to reveal only a slender schism of uncertainty between them. A number of Balthus protagonists were young girls (to him, their pre-youth seemed eternal, if only through its malleability, as opposed to womanhood, which seemed conclusive, and thus, destructible) who he painted partly as perverse fantasies, and partly as objects that provoked continuous bewilderment in him. It is now a cliché to present women as deposits of continous enigma – clichéd to the extent that a lot of crass humour is a yield of the inability of the male section of the species to ‘understand’ its female foil – but the question still remains: how does this enigma manifest itself pictorially? How can undeniable beauty also seem cruddy, shady and basically, shifty? The answer may lie in Balthus, as it may not in Kar Wai Wong – for while the former looks at youthful romantic subjects with suspicion; the latter looks at suspicious objects with youthful romance. As such, a Balthus female will always have turned her face away from the painter’s gaze; either that, or she will furtively steal away from it the tunnels of disclosure: her eyes, by either looking downwards, or even more shamelessly, just closing them.
A Balthus girl is usually resident on a couch or a bed with crumpled bedcovers (still life in a Balthus painting is always suggestive of a past that existed before the moment the painting depicts; much like film noir). At the very moment of the painting’s doing, her legs have begun to spread apart, like a swan’s wings as it begins to take flight – shaped like derelict scrawny archways somewhere in ancient Greece. The darkness of the schism, the tiny separation between the two arches, could either be the greatest darkness mankind may ever witness, an eternal purgatory, an invitation, but such that of a venus flytrap; or it maybe the land of ultimate bliss, as it is conventionally thought of as. But with women, who knows?