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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Eskenazi Museum of Art Represented at Important Conference in Jerusalem

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Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Photo: Jenny McComas

By Jenny McComas, Curator of European and American Art, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University

Engaging with the wider academic and professional communities is an important part of a curator’s job. Participating in conferences is one way to stay abreast of current trends in the field, meet new colleagues, and present one’s own research. Since I established the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Nazi-Era Provenance Research Project in 2004, I have taken advantage of opportunities to participate in the broader field of provenance (the ownership history of works of art) whenever possible. In November, I participated in an international conference on Provenance and Collecting organized by the London-based International Research Forum on Collecting and Display in conjunction with the Israel Museum and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The conference was held at the Israel Museum, the largest and most comprehensive art and archaeology museum in Israel. The museum has extensive wings devoted to antiquities, fine art, and Jewish art and life, but is perhaps best known for housing the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls, written in Hebrew and Aramaic on parchment and papyrus, were found in caves in Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in 1947. Dating from the third century BCE to the first century CE, they are the earliest written biblical texts to have survived. The scrolls are displayed on a rotating basis in the Shrine of the Book on the Israel Museum’s campus. This unusual building, designed in 1965 by the American architects Armand P. Bartos and Friedrich Kiesler, is meant to evoke the lids of the clay jars in which the scrolls were discovered. It was thrilling to present my conference paper in the Shrine of the Book’s auditorium, just steps from the famous scrolls.

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Jenny McComas discusses two objects from the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Israel Museum, November 2016. Photo: Yair Hovav

With the aim of exploring the myriad ways that provenance and provenance research impact scholarship, ethics, and the law, the Provenance and Collecting Conference was attended by a range of art historians, archaeologists, museum professionals, archivists, and lawyers from Israel, North America, and Europe. In my presentation, I described how I recovered the long-lost provenance histories of two objects in the Eskenazi Museum’s collection: Merzbild 13A (1919) by German Dadaist Kurt Schwitters and Head of a Girl, Turning (1913-14) by German Expressionist sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck. My research had revealed that both objects played significant roles in the introduction of modern German art to American audiences in the 1920s and 1930s, a discovery that, in my opinion, increases their art historical value and significance. In my presentation, I argued that provenance research conducted on museum collections has critical implications for the art historical interpretation of objects. Learning more of the specifics of an object’s past helps us to understand more about historical patterns in collecting, the public display of art, and how artistic canons are formed. In addition to sharing my research with other scholars in the field, the conference provided a wonderful opportunity to introduce the Eskenazi Museum of Art and its collections to an international audience.

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Conference attendees learning about a display of Hanukkah lamps from Jewish communities worldwide in the Israel Museum’s galleries. Photo: Yair Hovav

The Israel Museum’s own collections played an important role throughout the conference, providing a break from the more traditional lectures and offering a constant reminder of the object-oriented nature of provenance research. The conference began with a guided tour of the museum’s three main wings, and included extended discussions of particular objects with remarkable—or troubled—provenances. In the Jewish Art and Life wing, for example, we learned about “ownerless” objects sent to the Israel Museum’s predecessor, the Bezalel National Museum, by the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO) after World War II. Most often, these were ceremonial objects from synagogues destroyed or looted during the Holocaust. Today, the museum continues to research these objects’ provenances in the hopes of finding their rightful owners. The conference organizers also arranged a variety of workshops that focused on objects in the Israel Museum’s collections. Engaging with original works of art in an intensive session and hearing the insights of the curators was a unique opportunity for conference attendees.

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Edmund de Waal giving the conference keynote lecture, Israel Museum. Photo: Yair Hovav

The conference concluded with a moving keynote lecture by Edmund de Waal, acclaimed British ceramic artist and author of the bestselling 2011 memoir The Hare with the Amber Eyes. In his book—and in the lecture—de Waal recounted his research into the history of his Jewish ancestors, the Ephrussis of Paris and Vienna, and their collection of Japanese netsuke (miniature carvings), which he inherited as a young man. This was the only part of the family’s once vast art collection to escape Nazi looting during World War II. A powerful speaker and storyteller, de Waal had the audience laughing and crying in turn.

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Installation of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain at the Israel Museum. Photo: Jenny McComas

Engaging in fruitful dialogue with fellow scholars, curators, and provenance researchers, viewing the museum’s rich collections, and exploring Jerusalem itself—a city that certainly figures prominently in the history of art and culture—were reasons enough to make this a successful conference experience. Yet there was one more thing that made my visit to the Israel Museum special. Like the Eskenazi Museum of Art, the Israel Museum houses one of only three complete sets of the 1964 authorized replica edition of the Readymades by Marcel Duchamp. The original Readymades, among them the iconic Fountain (a porcelain urinal that Duchamp submitted to a New York art exhibition in 1917), were produced by Duchamp between 1913 and 1921 and epitomize the anti-establishment artistic movement known as Dada. Although most of the original Readymades were lost, the techniques and concepts pioneered by Duchamp—including the use of found objects, assemblage, and a general rethinking of Western artistic traditions—have proven extremely influential, providing a model for minimalism, conceptualism, and performance art. In 1964, the replica edition consisting of thirteen of Duchamp’s most important Readymades was designed and produced under the supervision of Duchamp and the Milan gallerist Arturo Schwarz; this project made Duchamp’s early twentieth-century innovations visible to a much wider audience. The Israel Museum’s set of Readymades, along with a major collection of Dada and Surrealist art, was donated in 1998 by Schwarz himself. I was curious to see how these objects would be installed and was particularly interested in the placement of Fountain high up on a wall separating two gallery spaces. As David Rockefeller Senior Curator Adina Kamien-Kazhdan explained to me, her presentation of the object references a photograph showing the original 1917 Fountain hanging above a doorway in Duchamp’s studio. I appreciated Adina’s creative installation choices, which I will certainly keep in mind as we prepare to reinstall our galleries as part of the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s upcoming renovation project.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

Spotlights: Two Recent Acquisitions On View in French Sculpture Collection

84.10Image: Jacques Lipchitz (French, born Lithuania, 1891-1973). Harlequin with Guitar, 1926. Bronze. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Henry R. Hope, 84.10

This summer the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is offering a special exhibition called Spotlights: Five Views into the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Collection, on view June 11-September 4, 2016. In this exhibition each of the museum’s five curators has chosen a group of objects to highlight due to their rarity, research interest, or importance, as a way of further displaying the range and quality that make the museum’s collection among the best in the country. You can find an overview of the exhibition HERE, and we will be taking a deeper look at the individual collections “spotlighted” here on the blog this summer. This week we focus on a collection of French sculpture curated by Jenny McComas, the museum’s Curator of European and American Art.

Between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth century, Paris was the birthplace of avant-garde movements such as Fauvism, Cubism, and Surrealism. While the paintings associated with these movements are well known, sculpture, too, played a significant role in the development of modern French art. The Eskenazi Museum of Art has a strong collection of sculptures by artists who were active in France during this time. While some of these works are always on view in the museum’s permanent gallery, this exhibition offers an expanded survey of our holdings in this area, including two new acquisitions, which you can see below.

2016.1Image: Charles Malfray (French, 1887-1940). Rider Crossing the Marne, 1915. Terracotta. Museum purchase with funds from Estate of Herman B Wells via the Joseph Granville and Anna Bernice Wells Memorial Fund, 2016.1

Charles Malfray’s work blends aspects of classicism and modernism, though many of his subjects referred to his experiences on World War I battlefields. This sculpture may allude to the First Battle of the Marne, which took place in September 1914. Possibly a model for a larger work, this terracotta reveals the spontaneity of Malfray’s working process.

2016.2Image: Marcel Damboise (French 1903-1992). Peasant (La Paysanne), 1938-39. Stone. Gift of Danielle Damboise Françoise, daughter of the artist, 2016.2

Born in Marseilles, Marcel Damboise apprenticed with a stonecutter before moving to Paris to pursue sculpture. Damboise’s work is characterized by a respect for traditional forms and subjects. He also conveyed a sense of modernity by simplifying forms and giving prominence to the mark of the artist’s hand—as evidenced by the patterning carved into this sculpture’s surface. This beautiful work was a generous gift to our museum from the daughter of the artist.

The other sculptures on view as part of our Spotlights exhibition range from the figurative, classicizing sculptures of Auguste Rodin and Aristide Maillol to more experimental works by the Cubist Henri Laurens and the Surrealist Marcel Jean. As the center of the art world, Paris also attracted artists from around the globe. Some of these immigrants—including Jacques Lipchitz, born to a Jewish family in Lithuania; Alexander Archipenko, a native of Ukraine; and Julio González from Barcelona—were among the most important contributors to the development of French modernism, drawing both on their diverse backgrounds and their enthusiasm for Parisian culture. We hope you take the opportunity to visit the museum and see the full collection on view through September 4, 2016. Admission to the Eskenazi Museum of Art is always FREE. If you have any questions, please contact us at iuam@indiana.edu.

If you would like to learn more about French Sculpture visit the French Sculpture Census website.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website