Balthus Painting Sells for $26 million at Yongle in Beijing

The Cat in the Mirror III surpassed the previous record price of $19 million for the artist

A new record price has been set for the Polish-French artist Balthus (also called Balthasar Klossowski de Rola) at Yongle’s Fall auction in Beijing. The Cat in the Mirror III from 1977 sold for 166,750,000 Yuan or $26.19 million. 

That price eclipses the $19 million paid in 2019 at Christie’s in New York for Thérèse Sur une banquette (1939). Another Blathus work sold in New York last month for $4.1 million. That was Japonaise au mirror noir from 1967. A study for another famous work by Balthus, Le Chat de la Méditerranée (1949) was sold at Sotheby’s in May of this year for $625,000.

The price is important for two reasons. It confirms—and exceeds—the previous record set only two years ago. Auction prices can be the result of events that are not easily reproduced. The $19 million record price from 2019 was twice the previous Balthus record. The artist’s small output and long-standing reputation as an important, if enigmatic, 20th Century painter also adds to the volatility of his market prices. The $26 million achieved at Yongle establishes a new reference point for the artist’s most significant works. 

The Cat in the Mirror III is important for several reasons. Primarily, the fact that it is the last large painting that the artist completed in his lifetime has a strong bearing on the significance. Balthus worked slowly and deliberately. So his studio contained more unfinished works at the time of his death but this is last complete work. The work also contains many of the artist’s preoccupations and themes: cats, mirrors, and young girl frozen in a slightly awkward, enigmatic position. There are even references to Balthus’s interest in Japan hidden in the fabric of the furniture and textiles surrounding the figures. 

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