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Rodin at the Tate

28th August 2021


Rodin used plaster of Paris  to create casts of his sculptures

Rodin was born in eighteen forties Paris  
in the quartier Mouffetard. His youthful
talent went unrecognised and he
was not accepted at the Ecole des
Beaux Arts
. Undaunted, he became apprenticed 
to a stonemason and worked in Brussels 
sculpting figures on the Stock Exchange.
He studied in museums and admired
Michelangelo. His l'Age d'Airain  
amazed the French in eighteen sev'nty-sev'n 
and many thought he must have made a cast
directly from the naked body of
the Belgian soldier model Auguste Neyt.
Rodin took understandable offence.
His work, like the impressionists', was seen
as anti-academic and his public
sculptures were abused. His Claude Lorraine
in Nancy was chopped off to suit the council.
Calais wouldn't have The Burghers. Many 
criticisms halted work on Victor 
Hugo
. Someone took an axe to Le 
Penseur
. Rodin declared, 'my thinker thinks
not only with his brain, his knitted brow,
his compressed lips and his distended nostrils,
but with every muscle of his arms, legs, back,
clenched fists and gripping toes'. His technique was
to model first in clay then make a cast
in plaster of Paris. From this he'd make
his bronzes and his plaster work is what
the current exhibition at Tate Modern
is about. He showed them off himself
in nineteen hundred at the Place de l'Alma,
Paris, and he's seen among them like
a wanderer through ruins. 

                                                    Balzac was
commissioned eighteen ninety-one and then
rejected by the same committee two
years later. It was not unveiled till eighteen
ninety-eight, a hundred years since Balzac's
birth when it was called 'a landmark in
the history of public sculpture'. Balzac's 
bulbous face was modelled on a man
from Tours, the writer's place of birth. His robe
was actually a real one that had
been dipped in plaster. Rodin's innovation 
was the fragment as a finished work,
the forms emerging from the rough-hewn rock
like Ugolino and his children, Triton
and Nereid, and Nymph Games. He painted
sketches in advance which look towards
abstraction in the modern age.

He met his seamstress partner Rose Beuret
in eighteen sixty-four. They had a child
Auguste-Eugene Beuret and stayed together
till they died successively in nineteen
seventeen. He had a sexual
relationship with fellow chiseller
Camille Claudel, but wouldn't leave Beuret
for her. Rodin obstructed her career
when they broke up. He sculpted many times
the German writer Helene von Nostitz,
the niece of Hindenburg and later fan
of Adolf Hitler. Rodin sculpted no
muse more than 'Hanako', the stage-name of
the Japanese performer Ohta Hisa
who was famous for portraying hara-kiri
ritual suicide for Paris crowds.
Fifty head-and-shoulders Hanakos exist.  







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