Auguste Rodin (Paris 1840-Meudon 1917)
Auguste Rodin is monumental, and celebrating the 100th anniversary of his death is an ode to the art of sculpting. Of his well-known works, those considered true symbols are “The Bourgeois of Calais,” “The Gates of Hell,” “The Kiss,” “Balzac,” and even “The Thinker.” These sculptures were all presented in 1993 at Tiananmen Square.
Rodin’s passionate love story with Camille Claudel, to whom the newly-opened museum in Nogent sur Seine is dedicated, and his childhood home are also important and deserve mention. See Camille Claudel article.
The celebration is, of course, dedicated to the artist who sculpted souls: “The likeness that I’m searching for is that of a soul.” His sculpture of Balzac is the outcome of this long-lasting search. “From the day that I conceived it, I was another man.” Various stories were needed to achieve this, and it took the artist seven years of research, studying, and hard work…how nerve-wracking! Given that the sculpture was posthumous, Rodin used the writer’s doppelganger who happened to be the coach drive at the Islette (where the artist would meet with Camille Claudel—their own paradise!). Unfortunately, the poor man’s physique wasn’t enough to allow the writer’s genius show through.
And finally, after many long years, the result was grandiose!
Rodin found that even “The Kiss” pales next to “Balzac.” The famous kiss is in fact a symbol. Initially, this piece was supposed to be the Gates of Hell sculpture, and it’s therefore one of the “escapees” of this “Hell.” Actually, it owes its name to a question posed by a journalist: “Monsieur Rodin, why don’t you simply call it The Kiss?” This work temporarily left the Rodin Museum for the 100th Anniversary Exhibit at the Grand Palais. It represents the ill-fated couple, Paolo and Francesca, the famous lovers from Dante’s Divine Comedy, immortalized.
In 1880, the commission for “The Gates of Hell” became a turning point in Rodin’s life.
When looking at the plaster modeled by the hands of the Master, I became quite moved in seeing the transparency of his movement, almost as if watching the birth of the work itself. If we stop to think about plaster, despite being the preferred material of the 19th century, it was for the most part abandoned in the 20ths century up until the 1980s in artists’ workshops as well as in exhibits. Still today, bronze editions are cast from these plasters.
“Personally, seriously distraught even though I chose to work outside school, I had not yet found an answer among the elders, except Rodin” Ossip Zadkine, 1968.
Rodin’s book, called The Cathedrals of France, is especially worth a read. It inspired Anselm Kieffer to visit the cathedrals of France, and is in essence the origin of the current Kiefer-Rodin exhibit at the Rodin Museum which places these two artists side by side. While Anselm Kieffer’s works, which pay tribute to the master, are housed in a temporary exhibition room, other less well-known sculptures of Rodin’s, such as “Absolution,” are shown at the Biron Hotel.
Since 2013, The Cathedrals of France have inspired some of Kiefer’s greatest pieces, such as “Towers – Cathedrals,” in which the remnants of his life are enclosed in a glass case. Specially for this exhibit, in place of Kiefer’s life remnants, one can see through the glass encasement certain fragments of Rodin’s sculptures, like Berthe’s foot! Lastly, and in keeping with the tribute to Rodin, the exhibit incorporates a room full of books that were dear to the artist.
“Before disappearing myself, I want to at least express my admiration for these sculptures; I would like to repay my debt of gratitude as I owe them so much happiness! I want to celebrate these stones that were so tenderly created into masterpieces by humble and knowledgeable artisans. I want to celebrate these moldings so lovingly shaped like the lips of a woman, these fine, yet powerful veins that gush towards the arch and tilt towards its intersection with a flower, and the rosettes of stained glass windows whose apparatus catches the sun at sunset or at dawn.” Excerpt from Les Cathédrales of France, p.10.
What should we think about this marvelous exhibit that juxtaposes Rodin’s sculptures with more contemporary ones? For my part, when I visited the expo, I saw a celebration of sculpture, even if it was oftentimes difficult to establish its connection to the Master!
It’s definitely a different way of rediscovering the artist whose work continues to attract and seduce us. The 100-year anniversary of Rodin’s death is celebrated with tribute exhibits installed throughout France, and also in the form of documentaries concerning the “Gates of Hell” sculpture, Camille Claudel (aptly named Camille Claudel, 1988), and the recent film on Rodin’s life (Rodin, 2017) produced by Jacques Dillon.
Florence Briat Soulié
Translated by Brianna Reed, Vassar College ‘16
Rodin Museum : Kieffer – Rodin
Until October 22, 2017, then located at The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia (from 11/17/2017 to 03/12/2017)
Grand Palais – Rodin – L’exposition du centenaire
Until July 31, 2017.
Book written by Auguste Rodin: The Cathedrals of France, 1914
Anselm Kieffer – Pompidou – The Gaze of a Parisienne