(Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, May 2017)
TVC recommends Jardin du Musée Rodin, Paris, for a pretty, fin de siècle, laid-out array of the world of Auguste Rodin (12 Nov. 1840 – 17 Nov. 1917); his home, his garden, and works, plus those of his muse and colleague, Camille Claudel.
This selection of his works, freighted with care and shown in Adelaide, juxtaposed with contemporary sculptural pieces, is intriguing and at times, a little depressing. Though the Greeks still claim the last word in the plastic arts, some of these new and even newer works were satisfying, amusing and in some cases, dead creepy.
Rodin was the last real link to the classical sculptors of the past – though society then was a tiny bit embarrassed by nakedness, preferring the nude (that is, the ideal form) although in relation to men, he was happy to be realistically coarse – the silky smooth woman à la The Kiss remained a romantic staple. He saw that the essential Greek ideal, frozen in time, could only be achieved by their inspired art, and so sought to combine motions in the one pose, creating grittier, more dynamic forms.
Some of the modern offerings were ingenious and even touching.
But Rodin was the obvious standout here and the new was overwhelmed by him.
As Kenneth Clark said of him: “No other artist of the nineteenth century had so profound a knowledge of the body…Rodin was so saturated with the feeling of man’s tragic struggle with destiny that his figures could hardly move without expressing it. If they walk, it is towards their doom; if they turn to look round, it is for fear of some avenging angel.”*
“…as in Wagner, the false and theatrical elements in his work are only an extension of the true, slightly vulgarised to suit modern conditions; and his finest pieces, the Eve, the Three Shades or the studies for The Burghers of Calais, are worthy of the tradition of sculpture that began with the Lapiths of Olympus, the daughters of Niobe, and the Marsyas.”*[*Kenneth Clark, The Nude (1956), p. 203.]
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