FRANCE:

100th an­niver­sary of Rodin's death

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Left, top left: Por­trait of Rodin 1880 Left, top right: Rodin with a model in his stu­dio Left: Rodin in his work­shop with the Mon­u­ment of Vic­tor Hugo, 1898 (Paul Dornac) All im­ages: © Col­lec­tion Musée Rodin

It was a cold win­ter’s day in Paris but as I was about to visit some­where I’d been dy­ing to see for at least six months I hardly no­ticed the cold as my friend and I tra­versed the Parisian boule­vards. We were on our way to the Musée Rodin, which is housed in a pri­vate villa and has been a mu­seum of his works since 1919. But in 2016 the mu­seum was com­pletely over­hauled and it was this that I had come to see, and find out more about the cel­e­bra­tions planned for the cen­te­nary of his death in 2017.

The mu­seum is home to a large num­ber of Rodin’s sculp­tures and draw­ings, as well as pieces from his own per­sonal col­lec­tions. In 1916, a year be­fore his death he said: “

I give the State all my works in plas­ter, mar­ble, bronze and stone, and my draw­ings, as well as the col­lec­tion of an­tiq­ui­ties that I had such plea­sure in as­sem­bling for the ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing of artists and work­ers. And I ask the State to keep all these col­lec­tions in the Hô­tel Biron, which will be the Musée Rodin, re­serv­ing the right to re­side there all my life.”

So Rodin do­nated all of his works and be­long­ings to the French State and in ex­change, the State pur­chased the Hô­tel Biron and its es­tate with the com­mit­ment to trans­form it into the Musée Rodin.

The Hô­tel Biron was built in the early eigh­teenth cen­tury by Jean Au­bert and in 1820 it was pur­chased by the So­ci­ety of the Sa­cred Heart of Je­sus, who cre­ated an ed­u­ca­tional es­tab­lish­ment for young girls. This in­sti­tu­tion was dis­solved in 1904 and the house was sur­ren­dered to the State, which then rented it out to artists. Writer Jean Cocteau, painter Henri Matisse, poet Rainer Maria Rilke and dancer Isadora Duncan were all tenants of the build­ing. And thanks to Rilke, Rodin dis­cov­ered the prop­erty in 1908 and rented four rooms on the ground floor. Three years later he was the sole oc­cu­pant. The house is hid­den by high walls with a large gar­den, and early pho­tos show just how wild the gar­den was in the days when Rodin lived there. Nowa­days, the house lies in the sub­urbs of Paris, but when Rodin resided there it was on the out­skirts of the city.

Rodin’s be­quest to the State also in­cluded copy­right roy­al­ties, thus pro­vid­ing the mu­seum with sig­nif­i­cant op­er­at­ing re­sources and fi­nan­cial au­ton­omy. The Musée Rodin is the sole na­tional mu­seum to en­tirely self-fi­nance its op­er­a­tions.

Life of Rodin

What I hadn’t ap­pre­ci­ated be­fore vis­it­ing this beau­ti­ful mu­seum was the fact that un­til Rodin was aged forty, he had never earnt a liv­ing as an artist. It was not un­til he was given com­mis­sions from the French State in 1880, that his rep­u­ta­tion be­gan to take hold, no­tably thanks to the leg­endary Gates of Hell.

This work in­spired Rodin for over thirty years; it formed the ba­sis for The Thinker, a uni­ver­sally recog­nised iconic piece which en­sured the artist

im­mense in­ter­na­tional ac­claim and placed him among the great names in the his­tory of Western art. How­ever, this mas­ter­piece was not unan­i­mously praised when in­stalled in front of the Pan­theon, re­ceiv­ing in­sults and called a ‘pithecan­thrope’, (which refers to a fos­sil found in Java in 1891). Since then, The Thinker has be­come a true am­bas­sador of France, an of­fi­cial em­blem: it has stood in Tianan­men Square in Bei­jing in 1993, in front of the Bran­den­burg Gate in Ber­lin in 2003 for the for­ti­eth an­niver­sary of the Élysée Treaty, and in Rome in 2007 to cel­e­brate the fifti­eth an­niver­sary of the sign­ing of the Treaty of Rome.

Rodin was born on the 12 Novem­ber 1840 in the Rue de l’Ar­balete, which is de­scribed as a poor but lively district of Paris’ 12th ar­rondisse­ment (to­day’s 5th). He is said to have been a lack-lus­tre pupil who re­ceived a medi­ocre ed­u­ca­tion. How­ever, his gift for draw­ing per­suaded his fa­ther to al­low him from the age of 14 to at­tend the École Im­pe­ri­ale Spé­ciale de Dessin et de Mathé­ma­tiques. How­ever, he failed the en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion to the École des Beaux-Arts three times which meant a slow start to his artis­tic ca­reer.

In 1877 he was ac­cused of us­ing a life cast for his statue The Age of Bronze (on dis­play in the mu­seum), which could have been a dis­as­ter for him, but in­stead it be­came a cause célèbre, and helped to es­tab­lish his rep­u­ta­tion as a sculp­tor. But through­out his ca­reer his works of­ten caused a scan­dal, which can be hard for us to fathom to­day. A statue of Balzac caused so much con­tro­versy that it was re­fused by the So­ciété des Gens de Let­tres when it was shown, as well as his most well-known piece, The Kiss, which was also slan­dered by some but loved by others.

In 1880 he re­ceived his com­mis­sion for a mon­u­men­tal door­way for a fu­ture mu­seum of dec­o­ra­tive arts, based on Dante’s Di­vine Com­edy -

The Gates of Hell. Rodin went on to work on these Gates for the rest of his life and there is a spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tion at the house based on his draw­ings and trial cast­ings.

In 1900, at the age of sixty, he mounted an in­de­pen­dent ex­hi­bi­tion of his works which was a chang­ing point for him. Fi­nally he was recog­nised for the ex­cep­tional artist that he was, and at last he

was fi­nan­cially se­cure and show­ered with tributes. His fi­nal bat­tle was to es­tab­lish his own mu­seum which in­volved a lengthy and com­plex se­ries of ne­go­ti­a­tions with the French State, which came to fruition in 1916. Due to the de­lays with the first World War, the mu­seum was fi­nally opened to the pub­lic on the 4 Au­gust 1919.

Camille Claudel

Although an ad­mirer of his works for many years, it wasn’t un­til my visit to the Musée Rodin that I heard the name Camille Claudel for the first time. But many in France know her name, and the fact that her life will be for­ever in­ter­twined with Rodin. It is known that Rodin took on a num­ber of pupils through­out his life­time, and is said to have had many af­fairs with them. In 1882 he took on Claudel and is said to have been en­tranced with her fiery tem­per­a­ment and out­stand­ing tal­ent. She later be­came his as­sis­tant, mistress and muse.

Knowl­edge of her af­fair greatly up­set her mother, who had al­ways wanted a male first-born child and dis­ap­proved of her work. When her fa­ther, who had al­ways sup­ported her work died in 1913, Claudel was not in­formed of his death, and eight days later, on the ini­tia­tive of her brother and mother, she was ad­mit­ted to a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. In one of the great­est tragedies pos­si­ble, Claudel was left in the hos­pi­tal for 30 years, de­spite rec­om­men­da­tions from the hos­pi­tal that she be dis­charged. When she died in 1943, her re­mains were buried in a com­mu­nal grave at the asylum.

The story of Rodin and Claudel could take up many col­umns, but the Musée Rodin has a room of her work, which to a lay­man such as my­self, seems ev­ery bit as stun­ning as the work of the master sculp­tor. A gor­geous piece, the Age of Ma­tu­rity is said to show Claudel trail­ing in the wake of Rodin, while other works show her work­ing with onyx and bronze. Her crafts­man­ship is ex­quis­ite and her story so sad.

The cen­te­nary of Rodin’s death

This year, 2017, marks the cen­te­nary of Rodin’s death, and there is go­ing to be a num­ber of events through­out the year to cel­e­brate the artist and his works. The mu­seum is us­ing the op­por­tu­nity to high­light less well-known as­pects of his works and

to cel­e­brate the man who laid the foun­da­tions of twen­ti­eth-cen­tury sculp­ture. A spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tion will be held at the Ga­leries na­tionales du Grand Palais in Paris en­ti­tled Rodin, The Cen­te­nary

Ex­hi­bi­tion show­ing how he changed the course of sculp­ture through his in­no­va­tion, ex­plor­ing of hu­man pas­sions and us­ing body lan­guage to cre­ate un­ex­pected as­sem­blages. Whilst we think of him most of­ten as a sculp­tor, his cut and pasted draw­ings ac­tu­ally pre­ceded Matisse and Pi­casso, while his re­la­tion­ship with pho­tog­ra­phy fore­shad­owed that of Bran­cusi. His works is also said to be seen in the works of Gi­a­cometti, Richier, Ce­sar, Fon­tanna, De Koon­ing, Baselitz, Lu­pertz and Gorm­ley.

The Musée Rodin is also cel­e­brat­ing the cen­te­nary by work­ing with renowned artist Anselm Kiefer. This ex­hi­bi­tion is based on high­light­ing the way the two artists loved to ex­per­i­ment and it will change the cur­rent pieces on dis­play to show en­tirely un­known works by Rodin for the first time that are said to re­flect the shared con­cerns of the two artists and their aes­thetic com­bat. Films and doc­u­men­taries are also planned through­out France and Rodin’s work will be show­cased in other mu­se­ums around the world.

Musée Rodin

When vis­it­ing the mu­seum, you should al­low your­self as much time as pos­si­ble. The house is full to burst­ing with hun­dreds of pieces of his work to­gether with pieces from his own col­lec­tions. This means that there is an aw­ful lot to see and take on board. There are nu­mer­ous casts of one piece, for ex­am­ple, the Balzac stat­ues, or mod­els for The Kiss or The Gates of Hell. And once you have fin­ished with the house, there are the grounds to ex­plore. One of Rodin’s most fa­mous com­mis­sions is The

Burghers of Calais, can be found in the gar­den, along with in­di­vid­ual pieces from the group sculp­ture on their own.

They are very pow­er­ful pieces and even a cold and win­tery day does noth­ing to dis­si­pate the ef­fect that they have. Luck­ily there is a café in the gar­dens too, which you can re­tire to when you need to di­gest all that you have seen and ap­pre­ci­ated. And as of­ten the case in Paris, their hot choco­late is to be highly rec­om­mended.

Top: Rodin’s The Thinker on the Gates of Hell Mid­dle: Rodin’s The Kiss Left: Rodin’s con­tro­ver­sial The Age of Bronze

Above, left: Claudel at work and a por­trait taken in 1884 Above, right: The beau­ti­ful Shakun­tala by Claudel

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