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.
bronze (edition 4/8); Rodin
and, far right,