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therese dreaming

NY Museum refuses to remove ‘suggestive’ image of young girl

A petition described Therese Dreaming as ‘disturbing’ and ‘romanticising voyeurism’

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is refusing to remove a controversial painting of a child that has been widely criticised for being sexually suggestive. A petition garnered thousands of signatures against the work.

The 1938 painting, ‘Therese Dreaming’ by Balthus presents a young girl sitting in a position that reveals her underwear. It’s said that the young girl was the French-Polish painter’s neighbour, aged between 12 and 13. Mia Merrill, who started the petition says, “Balthus, had a noted infatuation with pubescent girls, and it can be strongly argued that this painting romanticizes the sexualization of a child”.

The petition, that was posted on Care2, hopes the Met will reconsider their portrayal of the painting and has gained over 9,000 signatures. But the museum are refusing to remove the painting on the grounds of creative expression.

A spokesperson for the Met, Kenneth Weine, told the New York Post that the museum would not bow to mounting pressure. He said: “moments such as this provide an opportunity for conversation.”

Weine detailed that their “mission is to collect, study, conserve, and present significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge and ideas.”

The controversy comes amid waves of sexual assault and harassment allegations across industries, with people coming forward and sharing their harrowing personal experiences. Considering “the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses, The Met is romanticizing voyeurism and the objectification of children,” Merrill adds.

The National Coalition Against Censorship released a statement of support this week for the museum. It related: “Recent cases of censorship, including the threats of violence that forced the Guggenheim Museum in New York to remove several exhibits, reveal a disturbing trend of attempts to stifle art that engages difficult subjects. Art can often offer insights into difficult realities and, as such, merits vigorous defense.”

The painting has appeared in galleries across London, Kyoto, Cologne, Marseilles, Paris and Mexico city. The painting first appeared in the Met in 1998. It was bought by art collectors Jacques and Natasha Gelman in 1979 from the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, and given back to the Met in 1998.

This isn’t the first time that Balthus’ work has came under fire. In 2013, the Met ran the exhibit Balthus: Cats and Girls – Paintings and Provocations, in which they had to warn viewers that some of the art may be seen as disturbing. A review of the exhibit by the Guardian suggested that the artist had an “inordinate fixation on girls who’d just hit puberty”. The Village Voice described Balthus previously as “painting’s most memorable crotch-shot man”.