BY AUGUSTE RODIN
I wanted this week to talk about a painting that I see at least once a day – as I have a copy in my bathroom at home. It’s a surprising painting as normally we associate the artist Auguste Rodin with one media only – sculpture.
Born in 1840 in a poor part of Paris – the son of a clerk and his wife. By his teens, Rodin had decided to become an artist and studied at a design school but he was hampered by his short-sightedness and was refused entry aged 17 to the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts; But he persisted and started to specialize in sculpture. It took time but by his mid-40s he had established himself as one of the preeminent sculptors in the country. His works were to include The Age of Bronze, The Kiss, The Thinker, and The Burghers of Calais. If you don’t know his work I thoroughly recommend visiting his museums in Paris or Philadelphia – both of which are wonderful – or simply see The Burgers of Calais at the Met in New York. (Alternatively, have a look at our Tim Marlow meets Tony Bennett – where it is one of Tony’s choices to talk about).
But a painter? No-one thinks of Rodin as a painter. His own art collection had 6,000 works including paintings by Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir. He loved paintings and loved to paint.
In July 1906, Rodin, 66, went to see the Pré-Catelan in Paris, the show given by the troupe of Cambodian dancers, who came to accompany king Sisowath of Cambodia, during his official trip to France. Rodin was bewitched by the beauty of the dancers and even followed them to Marseilles to be able to draw them again and again until they sailed away.
A few days later his comments were reported in the newspaper The Figaro:
“These monotonous and slow dances, which follow the rhythm of a hectic music, have an extraordinary beauty, a perfect beauty… [They] taught me movements that I had not met anywhere yet…”
This particular painting I find absolutely gorgeous. A gouache of ochre for the arms and head as well as a deep blue for the dress. There is an absence of detail but that is not missed. The curve of the wrist, the slight tilt of the neck, even the rise of the knees carry with them a grace and control that is bewitching. The energy and control are captured by a master artist. This is what one sees time and time again with good and great artists – the ability to say so much with so little. It’s true of film-making too: often the skill is knowing what to leave out, knowing how to summarise in a few words or images what may be a complex tale. To entertain, inform and move. Rodin, painter as well as sculptor, was a master.
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