2.24.01 - Reuters
By Jean-Bernard Sieber
ROSSINIERE, Switzerland (Reuters) - Balthus, the highly respected realist painter of often erotic work, was buried on Saturday in this Swiss village close to the chalet were he spent the last 23 years of his long and productive life.
Bono, lead singer of the Irish rock group U2, sang for some 350 mourners including French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and Australian supermodel Elle McPherson.
The French, Italian and Swiss governments also sent representatives to the church ceremony in honor of the enigmatic painter who is among the few to have his works exhibited in the Louvre museum in Paris while still alive.
Balthazar Klossowski, Count de Rola, died last Sunday.
The man who hid behind an artist's name and kept quiet about much of his private life was born on February 29, 1908.
He had been ill but left the hospital the night before he died to see once more his large chalet in the area of Gstaad where he lived with his second wife, Japanese artist Setsuko.
After the ceremony in the village church, two horses pulled a carriage with the coffin draped in black. The artist was buried at the foot of a hill on a plot owned by the Balthus Foundation, some 300 meters (yards) from the chalet.
Balthus, whose claim to an aristocratic title is doubted by some, had a daughter Harumi with Setsuko as well as a son who died in childhood. From his first marriage he had two sons.
He and his family moved to Rossiniere in 1977 after having resided in the antique Villa Medicis in Rome since 1961 while heading the cultural center.
Child Prodigy With Famous Friends
Balthus' advanced age hides the fact that he was a child prodigy. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke helped publish his first drawings when Balthus was only 13.
Born in Paris the son of a Polish father and a Russian Jewish mother, Balthus grew up in Berlin and Geneva before returning to Paris. Rilke, Matisse and Pierre Bonnard were among the famous friends of his parents.
He had his first exhibition in Paris in 1934 where he caused a stir with his erotic "Guitar Lessons." Pablo Picasso, Andre Derain and Joan Miro collected his works.
Miro called Balthus, who never attended an art school, "the greatest realist painter of his age."
Balthus was known for his provocative paintings of young women, often with surreal elements in the background.
Unlike most of his famous contemporaries, Balthus remained faithful to figurative art. His later works showed adolescent girls absorbed in romantic dreams.
The scenes in his paintings were in the "fin de siecle" style of the last century, bourgeois and slightly decadent salons, where girls are reading or sitting near an open fire.
The atmosphere of his work has been compared to the ambiance evoked by the books of French writer Marcel Proust. Balthus painted some 350 works, sketched a thousand drawings and compiled 50 sketch books.
While living largely as a recluse, Balthus was a welcome guest in modern high society and lately struck friendships with modern singers and actors.
At a birthday party in 2000, Tony Curtis and David Bowie were among the guests and U2 performed.
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