He styled himself as the “King of Cats,” which is also the title of his only self-portrait. It shows a spoilt, imperious creature of the oldest, irresistible aristocracy, a “King of those regions that will remain forever unknown to my gloomy contemporaries,” as the young painter once said of himself.
The cat has, of course, always been the heraldic animal of this prince, ever since Rilke added a preface to the little picture book Balthus made as a boy. It is the tale of the mysterious, seductive cat “Mitsou”, which appears out of nowhere and disappears into nowhere. It is a creature one remembers as one might an apparition that appeared in a voluptuous Sunday afternoon dream. Hence the poet’s reassuring words at the end of his short preface: not the cat, but Balthus exists.
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