Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

Desin­vol­ture (Ca­su­al­ness), un­dated. Col­lec­tion: New­cas­tle Art Gallery. Gift of Wil­liam Bow­more AO, OBE in me­mory of Ruth Joan Fraser (1922-2003) through the Aus­tralian government’s Cul­tural Gifts Pro­gram 2004. On dis­play New­cas­tle Art Gallery, New­cas­tle, NSW, un­til Fe­bru­ary 17, as part of the ex­hi­bi­tion Col­lec­tion Com­pan­ions.

TO many crit­ics, Au­guste Rodin was the first sculp­tor who tried to ac­cu­rately de­pict women’s sex­u­al­ity in his works. He took an in­ti­mate and ex­pres­sive ap­proach to de­pict­ing the fe­male body and en­cour­aged his models to be un­in­hib­ited and to avoid ar­ti­fi­cial poses, re­sult­ing in sculp­tures that had an as­sured sen­su­al­ity.

‘‘ For­merly I chose my models and in­di­cated their poses. I have long left that er­ror be­hind,’’ Rodin wrote. ‘‘ All models are in­fin­itely beau­ti­ful, and their spon­ta­neous ges­tures are those that one feels are most di­vine.’’

It’s not dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out where Rodin’s ap­proach came from if you take a look at his tu­mul­tuous love life.

His re­la­tion­ships with women were leg­endary. In his later years he was known as the ‘‘ Sul­tan of Meudon’’, a ref­er­ence to the Parisian sub­urb where he lived and the num­ber of his mis­tresses, ac­cord­ing to his bi­og­ra­pher Ruth But­ler. He was in­un­dated by wealthy mar­ried women who wanted their por­traits, and by dozens of young women who of­fered to pose for his thou­sands of erotic draw­ings that are now housed in the Musee Rodin in Paris.

Rodin, how­ever, is prob­a­bly best known for his long-term re­la­tion­ship with two women si­mul­ta­ne­ously. In the 1860s when he was in his 20s, he met Rose Beuret, an il­lit­er­ate seam­stress, and they had a son.

But his most passionate af­fair was with a tal­ented fel­low sculp­tor, Camille Claudel, who was also his model, muse and helper. They met in 1883 when Claudel was 19. Their re­la­tion­ship ended nearly 10 years later when Rodin re­fused to leave Beuret.

Not long af­ter Claudel sev­ered ties with Rodin, she had a ner­vous break­down and was com­mit­ted to an asy­lum, where she spent the next 30 years un­til her death in 1943. Rodin even­tu­ally did marry Beuret in 1917, a fort­night be­fore her death and nine months be­fore Rodin’s own death.

Rodin’s erotic lib­er­a­tion was ev­i­dent in the sur­faces of his work, in par­tic­u­lar his bronzes, ac­cord­ing to poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who for a time was Rodin’s sec­re­tary.

In his es­say Rodin in Pri­vate, Rilke wrote of Rodin’s bronzes which ‘‘ ex­ude a sen­sual mal­leabil­ity, a flu­ent and vivid play of light and shade, they quiver and dance in a state of anatom­i­cal liq­ue­fac­tion. They seem to in­vite our own tac­tile re­sponse.’’

One of Rodin’s bronzes of the fe­male form, Desin­vol­ture (Ca­su­al­ness), is on show at the New­cas­tle Art Gallery.

It is on dis­play along­side three of Rodin’s draw­ings of fe­male nudes that were re­cently do­nated to the gallery through the es­tate of Mar­garet Ol­ley.

Desin­vol­ture (Ca­su­al­ness) Nude with Black Hair Nude Hold­ing Fab­ric

bronze (edi­tion 4/8); Rodin

draw­ings, right,

and, far right,

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