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Monday, 19 February, 2001, 13:04 GMT
Reclusive French artist Balthus dies
French artist Balthus who died on Sunday
Balthus was considered one of the greatest
The French artist Balthus, considered one of the world's greatest realist painters, has died at the age of 92.

Balthus, whose full name was Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, died on Sunday after leaving a medical clinic to return to his chalet in Switzerland.

French President Jacques Chirac said he learned of Balthus's death with "particular emotion" and described him as "one of the most eminent artists of the 20th Century," a man who "detested the banal above all".

Balthus' Portrait de Sheila Pickering
Balthus' Portrait de Sheila Pickering
He was best known for his disturbing and erotic works of girls on the verge of womanhood.

In the early 30s, he held exhibitions displaying his paintings of young women, groups of people and scenes from both the town and countryside, like La Rue from 1933 and La Montagne in 1937.

Private

Balthus inspired and influenced the art world for more than six decades but remained a mystery to all but a handful of intimate friends.

"Balthus is a painter of whom nothing is known," was his most often quoted self-analysis - given to organizers of a 1968 art exhibition at London's Tate Gallery.

He did agree to publication of photographs of a lavish fancy dress party for his 92nd birthday, where guests included actor Tony Curtis and U2's Bono.

Ancient family name

Balthus was born to a family of artists in Paris on February 29, 1908 - a date which allowed him to joke on his 92nd birthday that he was in fact only 23.

There was some uncertainty over his name.

Balthus called himself Count Balthazar Klossowski de Rola, saying that he came from an ancient Polish family whose male members had the rank of count.

But gossip persisted that he invented the title and Rola was merely an adaptation of the Lake Geneva village of Rolle where Balthus lived with his first wife.

In 1961 he was appointed director of the French Academy in Rome by his friend and minister Andre Malraux.

With his first wife, Antoinette von Wattenwyl, he had two children, Stachou and Thadee.

Balthus later married Setsuko Ideta and had one daughter, Harumi.

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