An artist named Balthus

ON THE LAST DAY of May 2023, I visited the Luxembourg Gallery on London’s Savile Row. My wife and I went to see a small exhibition of paintings and drawings by an artist whose name was not familiar to me – Balthasar Klossowski (1908–2001). Better known as ‘Balthus’, he was according to Wikipedia:

“…known for his erotically charged images of pubescent girls, but also for the refined, dreamlike quality of his imagery.”

Although there were three drawings that fall into the “erotically charged” category, most of the other works on display were delicately executed, attractive paintings. Most of these demonstrate what the gallery’s website described as follows:

“Exercising meticulous control over the form and placement of models, their bodily gestures, as well as the domestic or rural settings in which they reside, Balthus sought to create, at least in appearance, dreamlike scenarios, absent of time and devoid of emotional expression. Yet the restraint in his works results in suggestive and even violent relationships between elements or figures in the picture, as well as in their relation to viewers or the artist himself.”

The results are extremely pleasing to the eye.

The Wikipedia article mentioned something that particularly interested me:

“Throughout his career, Balthus rejected the usual conventions of the art world. He insisted that his paintings should be seen and not read about, and he resisted any attempts made to build a biographical profile. Towards the end of his life, he took part in a series of dialogues with the neurobiologist Semir Zeki, conducted at his chalet at Rossinière, Switzerland and at the Palazzo Farnese (French Embassy) in Rome.”

When I was studying for my BSc in physiology at University College London in the early 1970s, one of my teachers was Semir Zeki, mentioned in the quote above. I recall that he was an excellent teacher, who was able to explain complex topics extremely clearly.

Although I did not know about Balthus nor of Professor Zeki’s connection with him, I am very pleased I visited the Luxembourg Gallery and became aware of such a fine 20th century artist.

Some Islamic figurative art in the Victoria and Albert Museum

THE VICTORIA AND Albert Museum (‘V&A’) in London’s South Kensington is one of my favourite museums. It contains a huge variety of exquisite artefacts. Some of them were obtained by fair means, and others, such as Tipu’s Tiger (an 18th century mechanical toy), by means that some might consider foul. I do not propose to write about the current discussions on the ethics of museum collections, but instead I will concentrate on some interesting tiles that arrived in the museum from Persia, where they were made during the Safavid Dynasty that was established in 1501 AD, and lasted until 1722.

The 36 tiles, arranged in 4 rows of 9, together depict a garden in which a lady is reclining with her 5 attractively dressed attendants around her, all wearing headgear: their uncovered faces are portrayed fully. This tiled panelling might have been originally made as part of an extensive architectural project in early 17th century Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid Dynasty. Other similar tiled panelling can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, so wrote Farshid Emami in his paper “All the City’s Courtesans: A Now-Lost Safavid Pavilion and Its Figural Tile Panels” (published in the Metropolitan Museum Journal in 2019). The panel is shaped so that it could be fitted beneath a window.

The Safavid Dynasty was Islamic. Unlike many other groups in the Islamic world, which discourage or forbid figurative representation, the Safavid rulers, who were great patrons of the arts, developed a dynastic artistic style in which the depiction of human figures played an important role. The tiles that are on display are a fine example of this. According to the V&A’s website ( these tiles were:

“Bought from L.S. Myers, 6 Savile Row, for £275…”

Myers & Co, which flourished at the above-mentioned address in the 19th century, usually dealt with prints. “A Biographical Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Antique and Curiosity Dealers” by MW Westgarth (publ. 2009) revealed:

“Abraham Myers (born c1815/16) traded as a curiosity dealer in Old Bond Street and at New Bond Street, London, from the 1850s. Myers is listed as ‘antiquary dealer’ at 179 New Bond Street in Kelly’s Directory, 1878 and 1886 and at 6 Savile Row in 1886–91.”

So, assuming that LS Myers was associated with this firm, the tiling might well have been bought between 1886 and 1891.

Every visit to the V&A, which might take much of a lifetime to explore fully, is exciting because each time I visit the place, I discover something fascinating, which I had not noticed before. These tiles are no exception to this.