Tate Modern, 18th May – 21st Nov 2021
Well here we are, my first exhibition review for Gallery Tart Reviews and first visit to Tate Modern since the start of the pandemic. It’s great to be back, it is restricted, wearing a mask and side-stepping everyone does make you feel on guard but it is so great to see Art up close and personal again, as in many things in life, there’s nothing like the real thing.
So, to Rodin, the exhibition explores Rodin’s creative methods by highlighting his plaster casts, many here loaned by the Rodin Museum in Paris. The curators also point to the exhibition Rodin put on himself in a specially built pavilion at the Place de l’Alma, Paris in 1900 when he exhibited mostly plaster casts. There are two large photos of the pavilion within the exhibition and these help to give a sense of the artist and his studio.
The main gallery houses casts of many famous works, The Thinker, Balzac, The Walking Man, St John the Baptist, they’re all here. The cast of The Thinker is wonderfully monumental, there’s an absolute solidity to it that gives a real sense of the seriousness Rodin attributed to the figure. It was fantastic being able to see it so close up and take in the details, all exaggerated strength and deep pensive thought.
In this room the curators have also placed different sized casts of the same sculpture so that it is possible to compare how casts were sized up and down. This can be seen in The Walking Man, a small version from 1899 sits near an enlarged one from 1907. Both of them sinewy and strong make you sense a definite allusion to the Greek and Roman statuary Rodin had seen in Rome and London at the British Museum. A notion which is taken further later in the exhibition by focusing on Rodin’s interest in fragmented statues.
Women featured heavily in Rodin’s life, he is reported to have had many affairs and liaisons so it’s not surprising that some room is given to particular relationships. Ohta Hisa has a good section here, a Japanese actress in Paris, Rodin worked to get her facial expression through more than fifty busts of her, the ones on display show his continual efforts to grasp it. Less impressive is the space given to Camille Claudel, a fellow sculptor and arguably one of the most influential women in his life. Only two casts by her are shown, it’s a pity, it would have been good to see a better interaction and exploration of the influences on each other’s work, if any.
A small selection is devoted to Rodin’s collection of body parts, ‘abbatis’, as Rodin called them, arms, hands, feet, they formed a stockpile to draw on. The gallery has exhibited them beautifully here, all laid out in rows in a vitrine, I couldn’t help but think of Damien Hirst and his neat collections of the disembodied.
We then come to one of the major works of Rodin’s life The Burghers of Calais, it was commissioned in 1885 and finally exhibited in 1895 in Calais.
The sculpture represents the six city leaders of Calais who put themselves up for sacrifice to King Edward III of England in order to save the townspeople from slaughter after he besieged Calais in 1346-7. Originally commissioned as a sculpture of the leader, Eustache de Saint-Pierre, Rodin decided it would be better to represent the whole group. It is a wonderful piece and so interesting to see the plaster cast. Rodin’s method was to fully model the nude figure first and then drape it with plaster soaked clothing, this allows the fabric to sit naturally on the body and can clearly be seen from the great close up you get here.
Muscular torsos, legs and arms push through fabrics giving a realistic presentation of the individuals involved. It’s a devastating scene, the fear and sorrow wrought on the burgher’s faces and, even more hauntingly, each burgher has a rope around his neck in preparation for slaughter. They were eventually spared but Rodin’s representation leaves us in no doubt of the horror these heroic leaders faced up to in defence of their City and its people.
In all, it’s a really fascinating exhibition giving the viewer a behind the scenes look at the practise and production methods of Rodin, almost a down to earth view of the realities, decisions, try outs and re-tries involved in making his fabulous sculptures that viewing finished works cannot and, arguably, should not. It’s also a great opportunity to see many of Rodin’s most famous works, now spread world-wide, all in one place.
That said, there is one finished sculpture on display, Tate’s very own Rodin marble, The Kiss, 1901-4. It sits at the entrance and exit to the exhibition. It may be considered a bit ubiquitous these days, Tate’s own label suggest that Rodin found it overly traditional and called it a large sculpted knick-knack. I beg to differ from this fashionable distancing, for this gallery tart, it is nothing less than wonderful.
Go, enjoy, our cultural spaces need our support more than ever as we emerge from this godawful pandemic.
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Absolutely love that you are doing this! Now that I don’t live in London I miss the chance to hop on the tube or a bus, and explore the museums and galleries I used to frequent as a teenager, so being able to experience it through your perception of the pieces is a real treat.
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Thanks Sarah, really enjoyed doing it, felt like Covid didn’t exist for a while!
An insightful comment. I’ve seen his work at the Louvre and have gazed and studied it near and from the resting bench. The skill, the detail, the form of muscle expressing feeling fills me with admiration and a little jealousy of talent. You brought me back to the gallery and I can’t wait till we trip off to London together again!
Me too! Got lots of reviews lined up already!
I really enjoyed your first ( of many I hope,) blog, you’re joy of being up close and personal with the incredible sculptures can be felt through your words, I admit with a touch of envy, you made me want to wander back and forth through the exhibition and I will research more about Rodins work and life because of the interest you have sparked. Thank you for Gallery Tart, I will look forward to the next instalment.
Thank you, Thomas Becket at the British Museum next week!
Thank you for a very clear and informative review Rita. The ‘making’ of a work of art is a fascinating and dynamic process which often gets obliterated in exhibitions. Yet, casts, preparatory drawings and sketches are now often considered as works of art in their own right and they can also help understand the final ‘product’.
As you rightly mentioned, it’s a shame they don’t display more of Camille Claudel’s work as not only was she Rodin’s associate and long-term lover but she also had a huge influence on his work.
Thank you again for creating this very interesting blog and I am really looking forward to the next review.
Thanks Françoise, glad you enjoyed it. Thomas Becket next!