Tuesday, September 20, 2016

First learning encounter with sculptor Auguste Rodin

We viewed the special exhibit 'Rodin: Transforming Sculpture' at the Essex Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts the day before we flew to San Francisco simply because we just wanted to see the iconic The Thinker and The Kiss sculptures of Auguste Rodin. We did not know much else about him and his works; hence, this museum visit became Rodin 101 appreciation course for us.

Big white drapes were hang from the ceiling and along the walls of the six exhibition galleries to give the feel of roaming around his studio. There were some 175 pieces on display, big and small, in clay, plaster, marble, patinated plaster, and bronze.

The first gallery had configurations of hands, small statuettes, and up in the wall was The Gates of Hell, the bronze doors that were inspired by Dante's Inferno. We later learned that some of Rodin's major works were originally planned for The Gates, and some figures there were transformed into independent pieces.

One of them is The Three Shades, or the souls of the damned in Dante's Divine Comedy. This trio of nude male in exaggerated twisted pose can also be found at the top of the said The Gates. 

The Three Shades.

In the Christ and Mary Magdalene, which shows a dying man nailed to a rock with a naked mourning woman kneeling in front of him, the Magdalene is said to have been derived from one of the condemned figures in The Gates. 

Christ and Mary Magdalene.

Rodin also called this Prometheus and the Oceanid and The Genius and Pity, thus giving his art piece religious, mythical and secular undertones. On the whole though, we were looking at polished surfaces of naked bodies esp. that of the contorted female against the rough marble on which these are mounted.

While we were looking for the iconic The Kiss, we encountered variations of the kissing theme such as the Eternal Spring. Literature on Rodin's artworks tell us that the latter piece was originally modeled while he was planning The Gates of Hell.

Eternal Spring.

The Kiss.

There were indeed many other naked bodies in this Rodin exhibition like the famous The Thinker both in bronze and patinated plaster; St. John the Baptist in plaster, which we think has resemblance with The Awakening Man in bronze; Adam in bronze and Eve in patinated plaster.

The crooked finger of Adam pointing downward reminded us of Adam's finger in Michaelangelo's mural of the creation in the Sistine Chapel. On the other hand, the brawny contortions in the body of Rodin's Adam contrasts strongly though with the polished structure of Michaelangelo's David. Nevertheless, we found traces of Michaelangelo's influence in the Rodins.

The Thinker.

Adam and Eve.

In contrast to the nudes were the fully robed Monument to Balzac and the three clothed Burghers of Calais, all in bronze.  It was interesting to read that this robed Balzac was controversial, and it took years for Rodin to make several studies before he finally came out with this distillation of the persona of the French novelist and playwright as being alone but with head aloft.

Other Rodin's studies of Honore de Balzac on exhibit were his head in bronze, and his full naked figure in plaster.

Monument to Balzac (top left); bust (top right) and full figure (bottom).

Only three of the six Burghers of Calais were part of the exhibit. These draped figures represent the burghers who chose to sacrifice their lives to save their city during the Hundred Years War,  According to literature on this commissioned work, the figures are arranged in a circle, thus not one of them is the focal point. Rodin created two versions. The Burghers in the memorial in Calais are mounted on a pedestal, and the others at the Musee Rodin in Paris were on the ground so that viewers can go around them.

Three of the six Burghers of Calais. 

The special exhibit was on view from 14 May to 05 September 2016. As expected, the do-not-touch rule was enforced but the organizers provided us slabs of the media (clay, plaster, marble) to feel in lieu of the polished or rough body surfaces of the artworks. We're thankful though that photography was allowed.

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