Therese dreaming is a painting made in 1938 by the polish artist Balthus. The painting is of Thérèse Blanchard who was an eleven year old model from New york who was considered to be Balthus’s muse.
This painting sparked an immense amount of controversy because of Therese’s sitting position. What angered viewers was the visibility of her underwear and the position of her arms. The public argued that this painting is sexualising the young girl, whereas others argued that there is nothing sexual about the painting, and the people claiming otherwise are the one’s sexualising her. People have sent letters to the Metropolitan Museum of Art asking them to remove the painting from their display and journalists published numerous negative articles on this painting, until the late 1960’s.
This painting was born right before the second world war, when women's issues were surfacing heavily. Therese’s painting sparked into question why female anatomy is so heavily sexualised, that even the casual sitting position of a young girl was deemed overly sexual.
In 2022, the American singer Maya Hawke released a song called Therese. This song deemed the controversy unfair with the lyrics
“White kitten in the corner
It really says it all
Milk matches her underwear
Get her down
Take her off the wall”.
These lyrics show the contrast of a young child's innocence in comparison to her sexualization. She follows with the lyrics
“She's stretching out her sore shoulder
Leaning back, eyes closed, reaching up
She's wishing she was older[…]
She reminds me of memories, sleeping off the growing pains.”
This emphasizes that her position was nothing more than a young child acting her age. In the Therese music video, Maya Hawke and the other woman stood topless, near the end of the song. The writer stated that this was a commentary on the painting, comparing the visibility of both of their body. When seeing this part of the video, the public had a very similar reaction, as they did to the painting. The video was heavily sexualised and hated. This leaves viewers to wonder if the unfair sexualisation of female anatomy is as prominent today as it was in the 30’s.