Celebrating the Centenary of Rodin’s Death

Image: Edward Steichen (American, 1879–1973). Rodin from Camera Work (vol. 2), 1903. Photogravure on paper. Eskenazi Museum of Art, 78.31A

November 17, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917), one of modern art’s most famous sculptors. This portrait of the aging artist appeared in Alfred Stieglitz’s journal Camera Work. Stieglitz was an early proponent of modern art in America and he promoted Rodin’s work. He reproduced nine of Rodin’s drawings in Camera Work, vol. 34/35 (Eskenazi Museum of Art, 200.XIII.35.5–.13).

One of Stielgitz’s favorite photographers was Edward Steichen, who shared his interests in pushing the artistic possibilities of photography. In his early portraiture, Steichen embraced a Pictorialist aesthetic that featured the soft-focused veils of tone and idealized subjects promoted by Stieglitz. Steichen also sought to further the status of the medium through references to other fine arts. In this portrait, Steichen posed a pensive Rodin in silhouette against the gleaming white of the sculptor’s recently completed monument to the French novelist Victor Hugo. More than capturing a likeness, this image serves as a metaphor for the creative process—with the artist’s masterwork looking down angelically on its maker. The photogravure appears to be a cropped version in reverse of Steichen’s 1902 gum bichromate print, the latter of which was created by combining two negatives. The larger image, which was reproduced in Camera Work, no. 11, 1905 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.11.7) and a Special Steichen Supplement, 1906 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.15.10), also included and image of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker (Le Penseur) facing the artist. The journal reproduced two more traditional portraits of the famous artist: by Steichen in Camera Work, vol. 34/35, 1911 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.35.1), and by the British photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn in Camera Work, vol. 21, 1908 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.22.40), further suggesting Rodin’s importance to burgeoning modern artists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Image: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Head of Baudelaire, 1898 (cast 1959). Bronze. Gift of Mrs. Julian Bobbs, Eskenazi Museum of Art, 62.1

The first work by Rodin to enter the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection was a portrait head of the great French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire (French, 1821–1867). Rodin never met Baudelaire, but his art was shaped by the former’s theories of modernity and subjectivity. In 1892, a group of writers commissioned Rodin to design a monument commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Baudelaire’s death. He gladly made a portrait sculpture for the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris. Six years later, he reworked this image as an independent piece.

To make this portrait, Rodin studied the death mask of the poet and made life studies of a man said to bear a striking resemblance to Baudelaire. At the same time, he tried to conjure up the spirit of a Roman bust, allying the subject with the dignity and longevity of ancient writers. Finally, Rodin drew upon his own personal response to Baudelaire’s poetry to give expression to the artist’s viewpoint and to inject the eternal, spiritual quality that he—and Baudelaire—sought in art.

Rodin, whose sculptural talents are often considered equal to those of Michelangelo, was able to imbue simple compositions with psychological depth and intensely expressive feeling. Rodin was greatly influenced by Baudelaire’s 1857 poem The Flowers of Evil, which encouraged him to explore erotic themes, as seen in his sculpture of the goddess Iris.

Image: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Seated Nude Holding Left Ankle (Femme assise de tenant le pied gauche), ca. 1906–07. Watercolor over graphite on paper. William Lowe Bryan Memorial Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art, 66.31

The first and only drawing by Rodin to enter the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection was acquired in 1966. Albert Elsen—an expert on Rodin and professor of art history at IU (1958–68)—noted in a letter (April 8, 1966) to the donor, James S. Adams, “It is a superb drawing and there is no question as to its authenticity. Every week I am called upon to give an expertise on a Rodin drawing or sculpture, many of which are fakes. But this drawing is of the highest quality and unmistakably by Rodin.” He went on to say, “This new acquisition will give me many hours of enjoyment and a superb work of art to use in my courses.” Although not as well-known as his sculptures, Rodin’s drawings and watercolors—of which he produced more than 10,000—are regarded by some scholars as more experimental and spontaneous than his large, three-dimensional works. Although they rarely served a preparatory studies for his sculpture, Rodin said in 1910, “It’s very simple. My drawings are the key to my work.”

Image: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Iris, Messenger of the Gods (Iris, messagère des dieux) (also known as Another Voice, called Iris), 1890/91 (cast 1960). Bronze. Gift of Marion and Rudolf Gottfried, Eskenazi Museum of Art, 2011.40

Although the Eskenazi Museum of Art had not acquired a new work by Rodin in forty-five years, the gift of a bronze in 2011 rectified that situation. Seeming to defy the laws of gravity as she balances on one foot, Iris has a muscular body suggesting that of a dancer in Rodin’s frankly erotic sculpture. Her weightlessness also refers to the ancient Greek goddess’s role as a messenger traveling between the worlds of gods and humans.

Nan Brewer, Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper, and Jenny McComas, Curator of European and American Art,
Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University.

IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

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The IU Eskenazi Museum of Art in Texas!

Riberia 57.7
Jusepe de Ribera (Spanish 1591-1652). Study for Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, ca. 1626. Red chalk on paper. William Lowe Bryan Memorial, Eskenazi Museum of Art 57.7

Two major works from the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection are now on view in the Dallas / Fort Worth area.

After premiering at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain, Between Heaven and Hell: The Drawings of Jusepe de Ribera recently opened at the Meadows Museum of Art in Dallas, Texas. Curated by Gabriele Finaldi, former Associate Director of Conservation and Research at the Museo del Prado, and current Director of the National Gallery in London, the exhibition celebrates the first catalogue raisonné of Ribera’s drawings. The aim of the catalogue is to give a complete vision of Ribera as a draughtsman and to document all of the known drawings by his hand (around 160 in total). Among the drawings in the catalogue and exhibition is Saint Sebastian seated and attached to a Tree from the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s permanent collection. The drawing is highlighted in the catalogue as “One of Jusepe de Ribera’s most beautiful drawings, this work demonstrates the artist’s expert handling of the chalk medium for shading and contour, his understanding of human anatomy, and his dramatic use of contortion in the figure’s sinuous pose.” We are very happy to contribute to this new look at a major Spanish artist. Other loaning institutions beyond the Eskenazi, include the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), British Museum (London), Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), and the Istituto Centrale per la Grafica (Rome). The exhibition at the Meadows is on view now through June 11, 2017.

“Swing Landscape” Installation from Amon Carter Museum on Vimeo.

Stuart Davis’s masterpiece Swing Landscape, a perennial favorite of visitors to the Eskenazi Museum of Art, is currently on loan to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in nearby Fort Worth, Texas. Produced under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, the 1938 mural portrays the Gloucester, Massachusetts, waterfront through the lens of Davis’s exuberant brand of abstraction.  As the New York Times’s art critic Holland Cotter recently wrote,  “we see bits of Gloucester—ships, buoys, lobster traps—but basically we’re in a whole new universe of jazzy patterns and blazing colors, a landscape defined not by signs but by sensations: sound, rhythm, friction.” Swing Landscape recently anchored Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, a major retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Swing Landscape will remain on view at the Amon Carter Museum throughout the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s renovation, which is set to be completed by fall of 2019.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website