The Making of Rodin, Tate Modern. Rodin A Work in Progress
It’s worth starting with the tale about the making of ‘The Burgers of Calais’ one of Rodin’s most famous and dramatic works. Apparently, the figures were first modelled naked and then fabric tunics were dipped in plaster and draped over so that the withered bodies could clearly be seen beneath.
The feet and hands, possibly too large but maybe emphasising the hopelessness and vulnerability of their fate at the hands of England’s Edward III.
Extract from Wikipedia: The sculpture commemorates an event during the Hundred Years’ War, when Calais, a French port on the English Channel, surrendered to the English after an eleven-month siege. The city commissioned Rodin to create the sculpture in 1884 and the work was completed in 1889. In 1346, England’s Edward III, after a victory in the Battle of Crécy, laid siege to Calais, while Philip VI of France ordered the city to hold out at all costs. Philip failed to lift the siege, and starvation eventually forced the city to parley for surrender
Rodin’s design, which included all six figures rather than just de Saint Pierre, was controversial. The public felt that it lacked “overtly heroic antique references” which were considered integral to public sculpture. It was not a pyramidal arrangement and contained no allegorical figures. It was intended to be placed at ground level, rather than on a pedestal. The burghers were not presented in a positive image of glory; instead, they display “pain, anguish and fatalism”. To Rodin, this was nevertheless heroic, the heroism of self-sacrifice. Source: Wikipedia.
Rodin A Work in Progress
Rodin worked primarily in the malleable material, clay. This allowed him to make alterations, additions and removals as he wished. From clay to plaster to bronze. Quite a process. After he completed his work in clay, he employed highly skilled assistants to re-sculpt his compositions at larger sizes (including any of his large-scale monuments such as The Thinker), to cast the clay compositions into plaster or bronze, and to carve his marbles. Rodin’s major innovation was to capitalize on such multi-staged processes of 19th century sculpture and their reliance on plaster casting.
The plaster works were of course used as originals for the final stage of bronze casting. Therefore, they are unfinished, hand marks can be discerned, fingerprints spotted, smudges and air bubbles detected. All these things bringing Rodin and his techniques and studio to within inches of the viewer.
This typifies the beauty of this exhibition. You can see and feel Rodin at work.
It’s like looking at an original painting close up. To be able to study the brush strokes, their size, direction, pressure and application. To consider the blends of colour, the complementarities and juxtapositions.
An exhibition really worth making a detour for.
Rodin A Work in Progress