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. A telegram sent to the Tate Gallery as it prepared for its 1968 retrospective of his works read: “NO BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS. BEGIN: BALTHUS IS A PAINTER OF WHOM NOTHING IS KNOWN. NOW LET US LOOK AT THE PICTURES. REGARDS. B.”
Balthus’s style is primarily classical. His work shows numerous influences, including the writings of Emily Brontë, the writings and photography of Lewis Carroll, and the paintings of Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Simone Martini, Poussin, Jean Etienne Liotard, Joseph Reinhardt, Géricault, Ingres, Goya, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Courbet, Edgar Degas, Félix Vallotton and Paul Cézanne. Although his technique and compositions were inspired by pre-renaissance painters, there also are eerie intimations of contemporary surrealists like de Chirico. Painting the figure at a time when figurative art was largely ignored, he is widely recognised as an important 20th century artist.
He has also influenced the filmmaker Jacques Rivette of the French New Wave. His film Hurlevent (1985) was inspired by Balthus’s drawings made at the beginning of the 1930s. As he says in an interview with Valerie Hazette: “Seeing as he’s a bit of an eccentric and all that, I am very fond of Balthus (…) I was struck by the fact that Balthus enormously simplified the costumes and stripped away the imagery trappings (…)”.
A reproduction of Balthus’s Girl at a Window (a painting from 1957) prominently appeared in François Truffaut‘s film Domicile Conjugal (Bed & Board, 1970). The two principal characters, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and his wife Christine (Claude Jade), are arguing. Christine takes down from the wall a small drawing of approximately 25 x 25 cm and gives it to her husband: Christine: “Here, take the small Balthus.” Antoine: “Ah, the small Balthus. I offered it to you, it’s yours, keep it.”
Robert Dassanowsky‘s book Telegrams from the Metropole: Selected Poems 1980-1998 includes a work titled “The Balthus Poem.”
Christopher Hope, born 1944, wrote a novel, “My Chocolate Redeemer” around a painting by Balthus, “The Golden Days” (also 1944) which is featured on the book jacket.
His widow, Countess Setsuko Klossowska de Rola, heads the Balthus Foundation established in 1998.