As one New York City institution wrestles with high-profile molestation accusations, another finds itself the target of outcry over the "sexualization" of a young girl—in a painting. The Metropolitan Museum of Art says it will not take down the 1938 painting "Thérèse Dreaming" by the French artist Balthus, though 7,000 people have asked that it do so via the petition site care2. The petition started by Mia Merrill describes the work as "an evocative portrait of a prepubescent girl relaxing on a chair with her legs up and underwear exposed," and calls it "disturbing" that the museum would knowingly display such a sexualized image in our "current climate." As for the knowingly part, she notes that the Met paired a 2013 exhibit of Balthus' work with a sign explaining some of the pieces could be "disturbing" to viewers.
A 2013 Guardian article indicates "Thérèse Dreaming" was part of that exhibit. Merrill writes that "if the Met had the wherewithal to reference the disturbing nature of Balthus, they understand the implications of displaying his art." The New York Post reports the museum on Sunday said the painting would remain hanging, with a rep saying, "Moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation." The museum's description of the piece notes that Thérèse Blanchard, Balthus' neighbor in Paris, was 12 or 13 when she was painted. The Paris Review reports the late Balthus was asked about the "provocative poses" he painted young girls in, and replied, "It is how they sit." In his review of the 2013 exhibition for the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl had this to say: "I kept thinking of a line by Oscar Wilde: 'A bad man is the sort of man who admires innocence.'" (A US couple has been forced to give up their $1.75 million painting.)