I just got back from a really wonderful trip, with my husband and eldest step-daughter, to Quebec City, Charlevoix and Montreal. Ten days of art, fine food, magnificent landscapes, oceans and good company, I am a lucky woman.
One of the highlights for me was a visit to the Museum of Fine Art in Montreal (Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal ) to see the Rodin exhibition. Titled appropriately – Rodin: Metamorphosis in Rodin’s Studio, and runs to October 18, 2015. Should you find yourself in Montreal, do yourself a favor and put aside some time to visit this stunning show.
This exhibit has to be one of the largest collections of Rodin’s sculptures in one place. There are 300 works! It was an incredible experience and my congratulations go to the curators. This was so well laid out. There were very comprehensive explanations and write ups next to pieces, along with an audio tour, and an app for smart phones. We spent 2.5 hours there, and could easily have spent longer. There is an amazing mobile site that will allow you to explore this exhibition on your own – you can find it here.
Importance of Drawing
This quote caught my attention: "It is very simple, my drawings are the key to my work" ~ Rodin
This really made me smile, since I just wrote a blog about why I think drawing is essential to any good artist’s portfolio. Rodin’s drawings that were on display are wonderful – loose lines and great use of color washes. They have an almost Picasso feel to me. You can see how his drawings are truly the basis of all his sculptures.
I learnt many things while browsing this exhibit. Among them is that Rodin employed a team of artisans and artists to help him. He did not actually sculpt!
Rodin would make the maquette out of clay and then his team of extremely talented artisans would make plaster casts. Specialists in the art of bronze pouring would create the bronze works. Master sculptors would sculpt the marble pieces. This is why you very often see words to the effect of “sculpted by ….” or “caste by the house of….” on descriptions of his works. Collaboration! Make no mistake though, Rodin kept everything under tight supervision. After all these were his visions.
Another discovery is that very few, if any of the clay original sculptures survived. This is because in the process of making the plaster cast, the clay got destroyed. A process of destroying the very first version to create an original work. So the plaster versions are all that are left and give the most accurate representation of the original. Though if the plaster cast has a glaze or antiquing applied these casts can look like clay sculptures in and of themselves.
Next, I found Rodin also like to mix and match pieces of his sculptures. He would often remove an arm, hand, leg or head from a sculpture and then put them in a library. As he had new ideas, a new sculpture could be born by putting an arm from a previous sculpture onto the torso of a new one. Like building with lego’s or tinker toys! How cool is that thought.
I also can relate and translate this practice to current practices using digital art and painting for collage type of art works. Who knew that it had all been done before. He would take different sculptures and combine them together in different compositions as well. So the result would be something entirely new and not at all like it was originally created for.
Upscaling / Downscaling
A process Rodin utilized a lot was scaling his works up and down. So a small piece could be easily made massive with his skilled technicians doing all the hard work and math. This idea also made me realize that this is what I do with my digital art. My process to date is to take a smaller version of my work and upscale it to a larger size. My first print is considered the original (like Rodin’s Plaster castes are considered the originals).
Here is an example of the Burghers of Calais which was a complete grouping I saw in San Francisco – maybe they were 8″ tall. At the Montreal exhibit, there were three enormous, upscaled Burghers who must have stood at least 8 ft tall (hard to tell as I was below them). Incredibly powerful works.
Rodin loved to study hands and feet and very often his sculptures reflect this, in that he makes them large and massive. One of the first images you see as you walk into the show is The Hand of God. There is much more detail in the small plaster version. The sculpted marble has less definition and softer edges. I found this very interesting to see how the different mediums translated from the original plaster version. You can see his talent, skill and passion in this plaster cast below.
What I love about Rodin’s works, is how he leaves a lot of the original marble as part of the sculpture, so the figures are emerging and growing out of the roughness of the rock. He uses the material as an integral ‘pedestal’ to showcase the figures.
I love any sculptures that incorporate this technique, a lot of African Shona Sculptures employ this idea which is probably one of the reasons they speak to me so strongly.
This plaster cast of Thought, portrait of Camille Claudel is a fine example of what I mean.
A couple of months ago I saw this large bronze of The Thinker at the entry to The Legion of Honor Museum. Little did I know that I was soon to see another version, the one in Montreal, which is a plaster cast. It looks like clay!
If you study The Thinker closely you will notice how large his hands and feet are. This same phenomenon holds true for a lot of Rodin’s figures. This final set image is one I really like because the concept appeals to me. He used the same figure for all 3 of his figures.This is also done in plaster though it looks like a polished stone. You can feel the power and emotion of the figures. So incredible. A genius and a master artist.
I hope you have found this post as interesting to read as it was for me to visit. Let me know which pieces speak to you the most.