Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Jen George revisits Balthus’s painting Thérèse Dreaming.
In Balthus’s painting Thérèse Dreaming, a young girl sits, face turned to profile, arms up, elbows out, hands rested on her head, legs a little open, underwear visible—a sort of clothed, daydreaming, preteen odalisque. She is at home in her youth. She has the countenance of someone who knows other things are coming, eventually. Maybe she knows what, though she probably doesn’t. Not like she needs to—experience comes from being alone in the world, and with time. When asked about the provocative poses of preadolescent girls in his work, Balthus said, “It is how they (young girls) sit.”
When I first saw Thérèse Dreaming, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I stopped to sit. Maybe I’d been tired. I had been traveling cross-country with a counterfeit sixty-day Greyhound Ameripass—it allowed for unlimited bus travel within the U.S—and I had been smoking heavily and maybe not sleeping at all. I couldn’t stay all day in the Brooklyn apartment where I’d been sleeping, so most days I went to the Met, looking at art, spacing out, reading, sometimes staring at blank walls. It was inviting, the room and the painting. Thérèse’s skirt was like mine. My hair was longer. I liked her shoes. I liked that she was both in this room and not; she was dreaming, but I couldn’t see where she’d gone. Read More