September 2, 2018 – January 1, 2019

The Fondation Beyeler in Riehen/Basel is devoting a retrospective exhibition to the legendary artist Balthasar Klossowski de Rola (1908–2001), known as Balthus. The show is the first exhibition of Balthus's art in a Swiss museum since 2008 and the first comprehensive presentation of his work anywhere in German-speaking Switzerland.

Balthus had a long and close connection with Switzerland, extending from his later childhood years in Bern, Geneva, and Beatenberg, via his marriage to the Swiss aristocrat Antoinette de Watteville and their time together in the French and German-speaking parts of the country, to the final decades of his life in the Alpine village of Rossinière.

Balthus is viewed as one of the great masters of twentieth-century art, and is certainly one of the truly singular painters of his time. In his complex and multifaceted oeuvre, admired by some and spurned by others, he pursued an artistic approach that embodied an alternative, and a challenge, to modern avant-gardes. In his opposition to prevailing views, he refers to a whole range of art-historical traditions and precursors. Yet in his eccentric detachment from modernism, he developed his own specific avant-garde attitude, which now appears almost postmodern and contemporary.

The starting point for the exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler is Balthusʼs monumental painting Passage du Commerce-Saint-André, from 1952–1954, which has been on permanent loan to the museum for some time. This enigmatic work epitomizes the artist's intensive engagement with the dimensions of space and time in the image, and with their relationship to the figure and the object. With this focus, the exhibition will bring together some fifty important pictures from every phase of Balthus's oeuvre, looking also at the strategies employed in the staging of his often provocative images, and illuminating the elements of irony and mystery in his work. His pictures combine tranquility with extreme tension, and embody a wealth of contradictions, mingling dream and reality, eroticism and innocence, the factual and the unfathomable, the familiar and the uncanny, in a wholly unique way.

The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, realized with the generous support of the artist's family, is curated by Dr. Raphaël Bouvier (Curator) and Michiko Kono (Associate Curator). It will subsequently be shown at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.

Room Guide


Biography: Balthus

Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski) is born in Paris. He is the second son of the German-Polish art historian Erich Klossowski and the German-Jewish artist Else (or Elsa) Klossowski, née Spiro. The children grow up in a sophisticated artistic environment. Balthus’s brother, Pierre Klossowski, three years his senior, will become a notable writer and artist.

Katalog: Balthus

Meister der Stille: Balthus, der rätselhafteste Maler unserer Zeit, in einer grossen Retrospektive.

«Balthus' Bilder aber sollten nicht aus Museen verschwinden müssen, nur weil sie uns unsere Angst vor menschlichen Leidenschaften und seelischen Abgründen vor Augen halten.»


«Bilder wie aus einer anderen Welt»


«Grosse Kunst»

Schweizer Illustrierte

«Man darf diesen Künstler nicht mögen, aber man muss ihn ausstellen»

Aargauer Zeitung

«Die aussergewöhnlichen Gemälde von Balthus - in Riehen werden ihrer fünfzig gezeigt - können so bald für sich sprechen. Sie kreisen das Mysterium des Begehrens ein, ohne ihm das Geheimnis zu rauben»


The exhibition "Balthus" is being supported by: