H. de Roos - Rodinīs Approach to Art


22. searching for the true rodin 

Already during his life, various admirers and critics have tried to explain Rodinīs work in their own terms, and this has not changed after his death. After several decades during which his work did not receive much attention, Rodin was rediscovered as an Expressionist modeler by Leo Steinberg in the 1950īs. Steinberg saw Rodinīs true innovation in the moved surface of his clay models, still preserved in the bronze casts, while rejecting the marble sculptures as a concession to conventional taste. Albert Elsen recognised Rodin as the inventor of purely formal shape – by others, the artist had been accused of being a littérateur. After Elsen, Rodin has been claimed to be a Minimalist, Dada-ist, or male chauvinist, as wittingly described in Lynne Ambrosiniīs article "In Search for the Real Rodin".

For the art historian Rosalind Krauss, Rodinīs process of repetition and variation is the decampment to an Art that is self-referential. In 'Passages in Modern Sculpture' , she places Rodin among the artists that re-deploy a set of pre-existing meanings and continue to put it in a new context, instead of creating something unique and original. Ambrosini, on the other hand, contests that Rodinīs body of work would mainly relate to itself, like a hermetic labyrinth of mirrors:

Again signaling the multiples, Rosalind Krauss has posited a Post-Modernist Rodin, whose repetitions, like those of the Minimalists Carl Andre or Donald Judd, presumably call into question the very notions of singularity and originality. However, the example Kraus cites, the repetition of The Three Shades that surmount Rodinīs Gates of Hell, does not in fact work “to create a sign that is totally self-referential,.... seeming to refer the viewer to nothing more than [Rodinīs] own triple production of same object,” as Krauss claims, because here the triple iteration also (...) indicates the crushing recurrence of human despair in the scenes to which the three figures point. To Rodinīs contemporaries, moreover, this “trio of despair” told “the story of the whole door".

  Lynne Ambrosini, In Search of the Real Rodin, p. 14

Although Kraussīs interpretation often is obscure and hard to follow, it cannot be denied she also touches on an important aspect of Rodinīs creative development. As we have seen, Rodin decided to leave out many narrative elements of his Gates towards 1900. Generally, Rodin did not cling to fixed titles for his work. When submitting his Age of Bronze in Brussels, the sculpture did not even have a name; later, it was presented under a whole range of appellations. Rodin let himself be inspired by his model, instead of trying to tell a story. This also goes for his John the Baptist and for his erotic drawings. Although the narrative aspect is peripheral to Rodin here, he relates to an outer reality: the personality of his model. In another stage of the creative process, though, while arranging and re-arranging the fruits of previous efforts, the artist derives instantaneous satisfaction from a self-reinforcing resonance between his mind, his hands and his work in front of him. It is this combination of highest mental concentration and playful manipulation, this silent, inner excitement that Anne-Marie Bonnet refers to as “auto-erotic” when describing the way Rodin worked out his nude drawings in leisure time, colours them and combines clippings in new compositions:

The swift ease of the celebrated moment, which these drawings display, was nevertheless the product of several stages of work, and the coloring, as mentioned above, was often added only later - sometimes several years later. In many of the drawings, the contour is the result of tracing or cutting out, ands the real work, or at least a considerable part of it, took place during Rodinīs dialogue with himself, with his drawing - and thus also in the course of an auto-erotic act. Observation of the model provided the prima materia; but ther delicate, floating page - in which drawing and color, tension and release, art and life, hang in a fragile balance - was the product of the artistīs self-reflective meditation. The fact that this artistic act on Rodinīs part was just as sensual, and just as fragile, as physical desire is what fundamentally constitutes its quality and the inseparability of the artistic and erotic act.

  Anne-Barie Bonnet, Images of Desire, p. 25-26.

Looking at the sum of Rodinīs creative record, we can only conclude he was inspired by different kinds of stimuli, synthesized influences from classic, gothic, exotic and contemporary sources, developed not one style, but a variety of styles, ranging from the perfect smoothness of a marble Danaid to the wrecked appearance of his armless Meditation, was ready to deliver both monumental enlargements of his popular sculptures, create society portraits and pursue more personal artistic studies at the same time. This complexity makes him difficult to classify, but the more fascinating as a man and artist.


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