H. de Roos - Rodinīs Approach to Art

4. Expression and Geometry

To Gsell, Rodin himself explains the difference between a surmoulage, a life plaster cast of the model, and his own approach as follows: 

"Nevertheless,", I* answered with some malice, "it is not nature exactly as it is that you evoke in your work." (...) 
"But after all, the proof that you do change it is this, that the cast would not give at all the same impression as your work."
He reflected an instant and said. "That is so! Because the cast is less true than my sculpture!
"It would be impossible for any model to keep an animated pose during all the time that it would take to make  a cast from it. But I keep in my mind the ensemble of the pose and I insist that the model shall conform to my memory of it. More than that, -the cast only reproduces the exterior; I reproduce, besides that, the spirit which is certainly also a part of nature.
"I see all the truth, and not only that of the outside.
"I accentuate the lines which best express the spiritual state that I interpret.
As he spoke he showed me on a pedestal nearby one of his most beautiful statues, a young man kneeling, raising suppliant arms to heaven. All his being is drawn out with anguish. His body is thrown backwards. The breast heaves, the throat is tense with despair, and the hands are thrown out towards some mysterious being to which they long to cling.


Edouard Dantan, Surmoulage sur nature, 
oil on canvas, 1887

"Look!" he said to me; "I have accented the swelling of the muscles which express distress. Here, here, there - I have exaggerated the straining of the tendons which indicate the outburst of prayer."
And, with a gesture, he underlined the most vigorous parts of his work.
"I have you, Master!" I cried ironically; "You say yourself that you have accented, accentuated, exaggerated. You see, then, that you have changed nature."
He began to laugh at my obstinancy.
"No," he replied. "I have not changed it. Or, rather, if I have done it, it was without suspecting it at the time. The feeling which influenced my vision showed me Nature as I have copied her.

*=Paul Gsell

  Paul Gsell, Rodin on Art and Artistst, Dover Publications, New York, p. 11

In Rodinīs eyes, the artist produces no wilful distortion, adds no deliberate emphasis or exaggeration: it is Nature himself that guides the perception and the feeling of the talented artist. His expression is not subjective, arbitrary, but based on the laws of geometry:

If someone comes and praises my symbolism, my power of expression, still I know that the only important thing are the surfaces. Respect the surfaces, depict them correctly from every side, and movement will come; shift the masses, and create a new equilibrium. The human body can be compared to a striding temple; and like a temple, it has a center of gravity around which the volumes of the body are distributed and ordered. Once you have realized this, you know everything. It is simple, but you have to see it. Academic artists don't want to see it. Instead of realizing that this is the key to my method, people call me a poet... They say my sculpture is the sculpture of an enthusiast. I do not deny that it contains much of a violent nature, but this overwrought quality does not come out of me, it is a part of nature itself and its motion. The works of God are by their very nature exaggerated; I am only true to them. Nor is my temperament overexcited; it is tranquil. Nor am I a dreamer, but a mathematician, and if my work is good, then it is because it's geometric... 

  Paul Gsell, Rodin on Art and Artistst, Dover Publications, New York

In these statements, the two contradictory principles in Rodinīs approach to Art both are worded: the romantic, emotional, expressive tendency on the one hand, the rational, geometric principle, stressing balance and proportion, on the other. Karl Schilling, who analysed Rodinīs theory on Art in his 1938 thesis, concluded that its is the underhand struggle between these two directions that constitutes the highly individual quality of Rodinīs work.

  Karl Schilling, Das künstlerische Denken Rodinīs, Thesis, 1938; See J. A. Schmoll, Rodinstudien, Prestel Verlag München, p. 87




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