• Erika Argiolas

The Making of Rodin at Tate Modern Review: Beauty runs through plaster veins


Rodin - Detail from The Burghers of Calais (1884-1889) © Photograph by Erika Argiolas

Imagining an exhibition on Rodin at the Tate Modern is certainly a puzzling fact. In fact, we are used to seeing it at Tate Britain or at the V&A Museum. But perhaps it is precisely this attempt at analysis different from the usual that makes the exhibition something exceptional and different.

The Ey Exhibition: The Making of Rodin offers us a more unique than rare focus on Rodin's plaster works. An opportunity to rediscover his approach to creation from another point of view, exploring his creative use of fragmentation, multiplication, repetition, enlargement and assembly of disparate elements.

The exhibition is inspired by the great retrospective created in his honor in 1900 in a special Pavilion at the Place de l'Alma in Paris, set up concurrently with the Universal Exposition in Paris: it was a vast exhibition of plaster pieces, designed to appear like an immersive walk in the artist's studio. This intent was in fact underlined by the artist's decision to show only works in plaster, rather than in marble or bronze, elements for which he was best known.

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

Rodin was born in relative poverty in 1840, he failed the entrance exam three times at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, gaining experience as a laboratory assistant. Element that he will always emphasize as his strong point:

“I started as a craftsman to become an artist. This is the only good method. "
Rodin - The Age of Bronze (1896). © Photo by Erika Argiolas

It was his male nude, "The Bronze Age", that attracted attention at the Paris Salon of 1877. Such was the realism achieved by its creation that it led jury, officials, critics and members of the fine arts to heavily criticize it. the work. Thus they placed sculpture in a marginal position and Rodin was challenged for the style far from the decorative models of the time. Moreover, even more serious, they considered the figure of the naked young man to be a cast.

A commission of inquiry was therefore set up and condemned him. But Rodin actually made the cast of the model to prove his honesty, a Belgian soldier named Auguste Ney. He then sent the documentation and the cast to the jury of the Salon who, however, did not even open the box.

Auguste Rodin, Study for The Thinker, 1881, Paris, Musée Rodin | © Photo by Erika Argiolas

Rodin worked mainly by modeling clay, a malleable material that needs - in processing - the constant presence of moisture in order to maintain its softness; Couldn't initially afford to pay an assistant, his aide was Rose Beuret, his lifelong partner.

Despite being at the center of Rodin's exhibition, plaster casts were not recognized as important as works in more traditional materials until well into the 20th century. However, with their emphasis on process, materiality and creative accident rather than perfect finish, they continue to mark a threshold moment in the history of modern sculpture.
Rodin - The Thinker © Photograph by Erika Argiolas

Rodin made extensive use of drawing in the study of movement and internal dynamics of the body. Rather than instructing and forcing his models to assume fixed poses, he asked to move freely around the studio.

Rodin's approaches to drawing and sculpture showed striking similarities. In fact, he translated the initial drawing into several and varied copies and each of these could potentially develop into a new work that would then be independent of the original sketch. This attitude was also reflected in his small sculptures, in fact, Rodin used to rotate his drawings, just as the annotations written in different orientations show.


Furthermore, he was dazzled and fascinated by the fragmentary nature of the ancient Greek and Roman statues that he had had the opportunity to admire in collections such as that of the British Museum.

The Greek and Roman statues are in fact known to be partially worn by the signs of time, while others have been damaged and broken following the forced removals from their original environment. For Rodin this state of damage to the ancient statues seemed instead to increase their expressive power; he thus began to experiment in his creations, deliberately removing parts of his works.
Rodin - The Inner Voice (1886) © Photograph by Erika Argiolas

The Inner Voice” was initially part of a group of three figures that Rodin conceived for a monument to the French writer Victor Hugo. The knee was first broken to adapt the sculpture to the monument. Eventually the figure was enlarged and presented on its own. However, Rodin kept the knee truncated, embracing its removal as part of the object's story.

The exhibition was born thanks to the special collaboration between the Museé Rodin which offered the Tate unprecedented access to its collection.

With over 200 works on display, many of which have never been seen before outside of France, an exorbitant spectacle is presented before our eyes, witness to the continuous experimentation of Rodin, considering the complex dynamics of the laboratory, as well as the collaborations between artists and her models and collaborators, including Camille Claudel, Japanese actress Ohta Hisa and German aristocrat Helene Von Nostitz.

Rodin - Bust of Ohta Hisa © Photograph by Erika Argiolas

Auguste Rodin brought a new expressive realism to figurative sculpture.

Rodin - The Burghers of Calais © Photography by Erika Argiolas

Beauty runs through the veins of this exhibition and the artist's creative processes are brought into sharp focus; the plasters are discolored, signs of graphite and the melting of components visible. Works such as The Burghers of Calais (1889), whose restored cast is illuminated by the windows of the Tate Modern, his figures a twisted mass of pure emotion, speak of Rodin's ability to convey how the body feels in every nerve and sinew.

Rodin - The Thinker © Photograph by Erika Argiolas
"What makes my thinker think is that he thinks not only with his mind, with his knotted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes "

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