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