Christo­pher Allen

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

We may well ask why this ex­hi­bi­tion is called “ver­sus” Rodin — and we will — but first we need to ask how it is that Ade­laide hap­pens to have such a re­mark­able col­lec­tion of works, no fewer than 20, by the great French sculp­tor who was per­haps the most im­por­tant ex­po­nent of his art at the end of the 19th cen­tury. And the an­swer is that they were the gift of a re­mark­able col­lec­tor and bene­fac­tor, Wil­liam Bow­more (1909-2008).

Bow­more was born at Dalby on the Dar­ling Downs in Queens­land, but his name was orig­i­nally Mil­helm Bra­heim ibn Yared: his par­ents were Le­banese, An­ti­ochian Or­tho­dox Chris­tians who had fled ear­lier episodes of Is­lamic in­tol­er­ance. He fin­ished school at St Joseph’s in Syd­ney and ex­celled at the pi­ano and cello; ap­par­ently his English sur­name was in­spired by his pas­sion for the lat­ter in­stru­ment.

Bow­more even­tu­ally made a for­tune in pri­vate hos­pi­tals and spent his money amass­ing a con­sid­er­able col­lec­tion of art, at one stage amount­ing to 800 pieces, in­clud­ing paint­ings, sculp­tures, ce­ram­ics and an­tiq­ui­ties, many of which he sub­se­quently gave to mu­se­ums. The present ex­hi­bi­tion in­cludes not only the 20 Rodin sculp­tures but also two fine an­tique stat­ues: a head­less fig­ure of Artemis and a sen­si­tive fig­ure of a young ath­lete, both works of the Ro­man pe­riod.

The Rodin sculp­tures form the core of the ex­hi­bi­tion, al­though they are scat­tered through its var­i­ous rooms. They re­mind us not only what a re­mark­able artist he was but also that, al­though recog­nised as a colos­sus in his life­time, he did not quite fit into the cul­ture of con­tem­po­rary France. Some­one such as his older con­tem­po­rary Jean-Bap­tiste Carpeaux (1827-75), also a bril­liant artist but ul­ti­mately less orig­i­nal than Rodin, was bet­ter adapted to the dec­o­ra­tive and rhetor­i­cal re­quire­ments of the Se­cond Em­pire Ver­sus Rodin: Bod­ies Across Space and Time Art Gallery of South Aus­tralia, Ade­laide. Un­til July 2

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