Santa Claus is coming to town! The Basel Christmas Market is world famous for its old-fashioned had-crafted decorations and yummy food stalls – not forgetting the gluhwein. We even get a visit from St Nicholas and the Grim Reaper at dinner! we hope this sint a bad omen for 2019 was my 5 year scan comes up!
We are lucky with the weather and wander down Freistrasse enjoying the Christmas buskers, from kids fundraising for their school, to Russians supporting themselves, and our friend Nadia (centre, furry hat) singing traditional carols with her choir in aid of Alzheimers. We even spot a couple of angels come down to earth for shopping.
No trip to Basel is complete without a visa to the Beyeler. We are lucky to catch the new show on the controversial Balthus. An early 20th century modernist, to quote the catalogue, ‘he combines opposites in a challenging manner, uniting the real with the dreamlike, the erotic with the unbiased, the matter-of-fact with the mysterious and the familiar with the uncanny’. Here is his iconic street scene, Passage du Commerce Saint Andre, where he had his studio. It was also the site of Paris’s last guillotine, and the painting is very much composed like a stage set, representing the three ages of man – childhood, adulthood and old age in a pastel-cloured dreamlike palette.
His pictures of young girls, in particular, caused an outrage at his first Paris exhibition. Today he remains accused of pedophilia, and there was a recent demand to the Metropolitan in New York to remove Therese Dreaming (below).
Judge for yourself; I like the cat – cats were favourite images of his. The picture on the right (below) is one of his earliest, a self-portrait, while the girl with the mirror is is a later work featuring two of his favourite motifs – the cat and the mirror. Here the girl holds up mirror to the cat which, in feline style, is not a bit interested.
Back to Balthus and his love of eroticism. Here we see a portrait of his first wife, with the artist looking on apparently unimpressed despite the seductive pose of his beloved Antoinette. In the other portrait of his second wife, the Japanese painter Setsuko Ideta, the mood is more gentle and oriental, reflecting a departure in style from earlier work and perhaps a nod to old age.
Yet it is his depiction of young children, girls in particular, that was to shock the critics. Heartily sick as I am of #metoo and all the bandwagons that govern everyday life, it is quite hard not to feel one’s eyebrows rise, a small gasp of surprise erupt at Malthus’s audacity, while admiring the impact of his work.
Yet one cannot fail to be in awe of someone who can paint such a landscape.
And finally, an homage to the RA show Oceania, as many of the exhibits come from the Beyeler, such as this one…a reminder of where we will be this time next year!