Exhibition: Rodin and the Sculpture Revolution. From Camille Claudel to Giacometti
Barcelona, 28 October 2004
“Are cathedrals finished?” Rodin used to ask those astonished critics who condemned his work The Gates of Hell for being unfinished. Trained outside the official institutions, Rodin disconcerted the public with his endless retouching and rectification, in his total determination to reduce the work to its essence and thus attain perfection. It is not by chance that he is regarded today as the man who started the revolution that totally changed sculpture in the 20th century. “He will continue, for the generations to come, to be the only one who struck a liberating hammer blow against the wall that was gradually suffocating the endangered life of sculpture,” proclaimed Zadkine in 1952, on the occasion of a tribute at the Musée Rodin, which Brancusi, Giacometti, Arp and Chauvin also attended. With the title Rodin and the Sculpture Revolution. From Camille Claudel to Giacometti, Fundación ”la Caixa” is presenting at CaixaForum the most complete and evocative exhibition of his work organised in the country to date. Over one hundred sculptures by more than thirty artists contrast the master’s work with that of his contemporaries and later creators of the stature of Picasso, Brancusi, Matisse and Archipenko. The exhibition not only traces an itinerary around Rodin’s work, it also establishes a host of correspondences with the pieces done by his associates in his studio (Camille Claudel, Bourdelle, Jouvray) and other artists who regarded him as their master (Maillol, Duchamp-Villon). One of the attractions is to be able to see the sculptures of this great precursor alongside others which, like Gargallo’s Great Prophet and Giacometti’s Walking Man, have become symbols of the human condition. There is a parallel selection of fundamental pieces of Spanish sculpture on which Rodin’s mark can be clearly seen.
The exhibition Rodin and the Sculpture Revolution. From Camille Claudel to Giacometti, curated by Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, sculpture curator at the Musée Rodin in Paris, can be seen at CaixaForum (Avenida del Marquès de Comillas, 6-8, Barcelona) from 29 October 2004 to 27 February 2005. Josefina Alix has been advisor to the exhibition and has selected the pieces by Spanish artists.
The association between Fundación ”la Caixa” and the Musée Rodin in Paris is not new. Since 1996 the two institutions have maintained a close relationship which has already taken the shape of three other major exhibitions: Auguste Rodin and his Relationship with Spain, which was mounted in Zaragoza in 1996 and contained two hundred works that reflected the master’s link with the country through his friendship with the Basque painter Ignacio Zuloaga; the retrospective Auguste Rodin, which opened as part of Salamanca 2002 and brought together an exceptional group of 56 sculptures in bronze and marble which showed the master’s creative process; and Rodin’s Repentances, a selection of over one hundred unpublished photographs and drawings which complemented the other exhibition and illustrated his use of photography as a working material throughout his career.
Now, with Rodin and the Sculpture Revolution. From Camille Claudel to Giacometti, the Musée Rodin and Fundación ”la Caixa” are taking a further step with this fourth exhibition, which shows to what extent the master revolutionised an art, the art of sculpture, which had been reduced to a tedious discipline practically confined to commemorative monuments. Heir to a long tradition, Rodin appears beyond the shadow of a doubt as the man who started the revolution that totally changed sculpture in the 20th century. After becoming interested in expression under the influence of Michelangelo, in the 1880s he turned towards the art of Antiquity and around 1895 began to raise partial figures to the category of finished works. From 1900 he stood in the foreground of the art scene, and later sculptors could only be situated in relation to him, whether they accepted or rejected his influence.
The exhibition Rodin and the Sculpture Revolution. From Camille Claudel to Giacometti, which can only be seen at CaixaForum, brings together an extraordinary collection of Rodin’s sculptures, together with a selection of works by his contemporaries and other later artists which reveal his influence on 20th century art. Among the most notable of the thirty or so artists represented are Camille Claudel, Aristide Maillol, Constantin Brancusi, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, Alexander Archipenko, Josep Clarà, Charles Despiau, Eduardo Chillida, Jules Desbois, Pablo Picasso, Julio González, Madeleine Jouvray and Pablo Gargallo. The 105 works brought for the occasion belong to more than thirty institutions and public and private collections, such as the Musée Rodin in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Musée Matisse in Nice, the Fondation Giacometti in Paris, the Kunsthaus in Zurich, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lille, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) in Barcelona.
The exhibition is divided into five sections: Introduction: Difficult beginnings; The first commissions: The Gates of Hell; In the studio: assistants and carvers; Public monuments; and “Our master, Rodin”. The selection of fundamental pieces of Spanish sculpture, where Rodin’s mark is evident, is shown in that last section, along with works by other artists. The selection, made by Josefina Alix, consists of works by Casanovas, Julio González, Chillida, Picasso, Gargallo, Josep Clarà, Mateo Inurria and Daniel González.
Introduction: Difficult beginnings
Auguste Rodin was born in Paris in 1840 and died in Meudon in 1917. Around 1854, after he was admitted to the Petite École, he discovered sculpture: “I saw clay for the first time and I felt as if I had been transported to paradise. I made odd pieces, arms, heads or feet; and then I devoted myself to the whole figure. I was excited.” To earn a living he set to work for different decorators. “The need to make a living made me learn all the aspects of my craft For me that was a kind of hidden apprenticeship,” he recalled later. He soon made one of his dreams come true, to have his own studio, working frenetically in a “freezing cold stable”.
For a young artist it was essential to show at the Salon, the supreme meeting place with the public. The bust The Man with the Broken Nose was the first work he showed there, but that was not until 1875. Ten years earlier he had tried to submit it, but the jury had rejected it because of its fragmentary appearance (from the effect of the cold winter of 1865, the back of the head had cracked and fallen off). But he kept it, and when he had sufficient economic means he gave it its original form and entrusted its execution in marble to his friend Léon Fourquet. Finally, in 1875 it was accepted for the first time by the Salon.
Two years later he showed a life-size male study, The Age of Bronze, which he hoped would make him known, but it was a failure, since it aroused suspicions that the figure had been made from life-casts. Trained outside the official institutions, Rodin had too personal a concept of sculpture, which could only disconcert a jury used to basing itself on traditional criteria.
The first commissions: The Gates of Hell
The interest which the director of Fine Arts, Turquet, felt for Rodin brought him a commission, by decree of 16 August 1880, for a decorative gate that was to be adorned with low reliefs inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. After reading and rereading Dante for a year, “living only on him and with him, drawing the eight circles of his hell,” Rodin made hundreds of figures. Always modelling from life, he did them as autonomous works, tried them out in The Gates of Hell and accepted or rejected them.
All the works became part of a store of forms from which he supplied himself throughout his career. Although initially designed for The Gates, some of them (The Thinker, The Kiss, Ugolino) took on a life of their own and were cast in bronze, reproduced in marble and even enlarged. Other works, which were originally conceived independently, were joined to give life to new sculptural groups.
In the studio: assistants and carvers
Rodin used associates from very early on. With the big commissions of the 1880s and 1890s, the needs for modelling and enlarging grew and he surrounded himself with casters, carvers, modellers, assistants and students, whose task was not always precisely defined. Camille Claudel and Jules Desbois were the first to come to work for the master. Many of his associates were also excellent sculptors (Claudel, Desbois, Pompon, Bourdelle, Despiau), and so the studio became the scene of exchanges which Rodin did not hesitate to take advantage of. And so works by other artists suggested new sculptural groups to him. The Fall of an Angel, for example, seems to echo Desbois’ Leda.
For Rodin a work could always be transformed, and so he refused to enclose the form in over precise contours. Accustomed to working for him, the carvers could transform a simple sketch into a finished model. Soon he had no hesitation in showing unfinished works, sometimes even unsigned, such as the large marble Kiss abandoned by the carver, Jean Turcan. He even interrupted the work of some carvers when he was impressed by the power of suggestion of a sculpture that was still incomplete (such is the case of Thought, 1895).
With the passage of time Rodin asked his carvers to blur the forms even more, to the point that it is difficult to say whether, in the artist’s opinion, they are really finished, like the bust of the Duchesse de Choiseul. Despite that he was often imitated. At the beginning of their careers, Schnegg, Bourdelle, Despiau, Brancusi (in The Dream, 1908) and many others adopted the same principle of contrast between the finished and the unfinished. “In art, you must know how to sacrifice,” said Rodin, who, beyond any ideas conceived a priori, allowed himself to be carried away by chance and did not hesitate to make the accident one of his main creative impulses. Such is the case of Eve which, abandoned in 1881, finally saw the light of day in 1889.
In the 19th century, the public monument had an educational function: the clothing and the gesture had to allow the person represented to be easily identified, whilst allegorical figures and low reliefs depicted his qualities and the outstanding events of his life. For the Monument to Victor Hugo Rodin respected that principle, though he stripped it of the extra figures, showing only the image of the poet.
But years later, for Balzac, he concentrated the writer’s creative force in the face, breaking with tradition. The model stirred up a full-blown scandal and the Société des Gens de Lettres withdrew the commission. On 13 July 1908, in Le Matin, Rodin stated that the statue would follow “its own road”. “This work, which has been the object of mockery, which they have tried to ridicule because they could not destroy it, is the result of all my life, the axis of my whole aesthetic.”
“Our master, Rodin”
“Of those who have been through his work, how many French people, how many students who have come from every country have extracted gestures, softnesses and outbursts from this ocean of works Yes, all his contemporaries have followed the impulse of the work of the greatest of us, we have all adopted the ways of his works,” admitted Bourdelle. For his part, one foreigner, Zadkine, claimed when he came to Paris: “In 1910, apart from Rodin, there was no sculptor whose works could have been a response to the disenchantment young people felt on visiting, for example, the great Salon.”
Concerned solely with form, Rodin made the hand and the head, for their expressive force, and the torso, for its fullness, his favourite fields of experiment. In that way he opened the door to 20th century sculpture: from Drivier, Dejean and Janniot to Brancusi, Archipenko, Zadkine, Giacometti, Ubac, Chillida and Dodeigne, from the figurative to the non-figurative, from the artists who had some relation with him to the much younger ones who only knew him through his work. From 1912-1913, and especially after the First World War, the torso as such became one of the favourite subjects of sculptors. For some, like Maillol, who always began with the torso and was tempted to make do with it (“the arms are missing, it does not matter”), was enough in itself to evoke a woman, since it is the part of the body in which her characteristics are best expressed. For others, like Brancusi, who reduced it to a hip and a thigh (cat. 85), it is an exercise in ascesis which leads them to search for the essence of form.
Rodin and the Sculpture Revolution
29 October 2004 to 27 February 2005
Inauguration: Thursday 28 October, 20.00
Av. del Marquès de Comillas, 6-8
Tuesday to Sunday and holidays, 10.00 to 20.00
Mondays closed, except holidays
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