Thursday 23 September 2021

The Soldier, The Dressing Gown And The Giblets

Before I forget, I must share some pictures of my trip to London the other week. Specifically, my visit to Tate Modern with Liz to see the Rodin exhibition. 

The exhibition focusses  on Rodin's work in plaster - he sculpted in clay, then took plaster casts which he then used to create the final bronze pieces.

In his mid thirties, this policeman's son began work on a figure entitled "The Age Of Bronze" - unable to get into art college, he had been working as a studio assistant for many years. His subject was a young Belgian soldier, Auguste Neyt. When the sculpture was exhibited, it was so lifelike that the artist was accused of cheating - of casting direct from the subject's body.

So offended was he, that Rodin commissioned photographs to show the subtle anatomical differences between the sitter and the sculpture. The fiasco had a major impact on the artist - he broke with convention and his new images of the human body were not classical, idealised figures, but rather they reflected the complexities and uncertainties of life. 

When commissioned to make a sculpture of the author Balzac [Emile Zola supported the choice of Rodin] he began by making a model of the man standing arms folded, with a determined expression. But then he decided to clothe him. Rodin decided on a dressing gown! So here is the plaster model of Balzac's dressing gown [bizarrely there are feet poking out at the bottom]

The final statue gives an impression of this imposing man - and has been described as 'the greatest piece of sculpture of the 19th century. Kenneth Clark declared "Balzac, with his prodigious understanding of human motives scorns conventional values, defies fashionable opinion, as Beethoven did, and should inspire us to defy all those forces that threaten to impair our humanity"

I have never read any Balzac, I cannot comment - all I know is that he worked very long hours, and liked sitting around in his d.g. to write!
Rodin was so meticulous he actually borrowed the gown to get the details right.
For one large piece, called "The Gates Of Hell" Rodin needed to create many figures in differing sizes. So he modelled dozens of hands in plaster - some only a couple of inches long. 
He kept drawer after drawer of these, and used the same hands on various figures. Rodin called these little body parts abattis [giblets]

I enjoyed the exhibition, it was interesting to see the construction and the planning which went into the bronzes [under French law, only 12 castings can be made of any piece of Rodins's work] 
I was only really aware of two of his bronze pieces - The Thinker, and The Burghers Of Calais. It was fascinating to see the various plaster models which came before the final metal casting.
But just before entering the exhibition itself, Liz and I stood and admired Rodin's fabulous marble sculpture "The Kiss" [this one actually belongs to The Tate] The textures and surfaces looked so like skin and hair [Do Not Touch! called the guide, in case we marked the pristine surface]
I never knew before that he had a book in his hand - these adulterous lovers had been reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere!

We spent a great time walking round and chatting - while Jess dozed [mostly] in the pram. 
Part Two of the Tate visit will be covered in tomorrow's post!


  1. Thank you for sharing your visit to see this exhibition. Sounds like you and Liz had a great visit. :)

  2. I had to read Le Père Goriot by Balzac in the original French in school and I remember a wonderful scene in a boarding house with the residents around the table. It came to life, but I've forgotten the rest of the book!
    Some of Rodin's works were loaned to the Lower Belvedere in Vienna, 10 or 11 years ago and I was fortunate to see them, but not as much as you saw recently in London. Your photos are great.


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