Friday, February 05, 2016

Rodin (exhibition at Ateneum, Helsinki)

Auguste Rodin: Danaid, 1885, this marble 1889. Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Janne Mäkinen
Rodin, exhibition 5.2.-8.5.2016 in collaboration with the Stockholm Nationalmuseum, Ateneum Art Museum, Musée Rodin in Paris and its former Chief Curator Antoinette Le Normand-Romain. Curators: Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, Linda Hinners, and Timo Huusko.

Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery, Kaivokatu 2, 00100 Helsinki.

The catalogue:
Rodin. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) ja Pohjola. [Rodin. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and the North]. Editor-in-chief: Linda Hinners. Editor of the Finnish edition: Timo Huusko. Helsinki: Ateneumin taidemuseo / Suomen kansallisgalleria. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. 188 p.
    Swedish edition for Nationalmuseum, 1.10.2015-10.1.2016.
    Finnish edition for Ateneum, 5.2.-8.5.2016.
    Three language editions: Swedish, Finnish, and English.

From the press release: "Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), who lived and worked in Paris, brought a whole new character to sculpture with his robust expressiveness, emphasising physicality. The exhibition also features works by Rodin’s Finnish students, Sigrid af Forselles and Hilda Flodin. This exhibition is the most extensive one of Rodin’s work ever seen in Finland: previously Rodin’s works were on display more than 50 years ago, in 1965."

"The rugged and textured works were considered too risqué and unfinished by his contemporaries."

"Rodin was an exceptional artist who revolutionised the art of sculpture. Several of the works are classics: for example, of The Kiss and The Thinker, innumerable copies exist. As late as the late 19th century, the works still divided opinion. They were deemed either too risqué or realistic, or they were thought to be unfinished and lacking in substance."

"Rodin may be regarded as one of the last classical sculptors, while also representing a vibrant and spontaneous idiom that was completely new and progressive. What generally was considered unfinished was in Rodin’s view complete and ready. The human body is at the core of Rodin’s work: he had the ability to capture in one figure the realistic form of the human body and powerful, emotional expression."

"The exhibition covers Rodin’s entire career from the early works to some of his later creations. It gives an overview of his work and his experimental approach to sculpture, and paints a picture of this prolific worker and his fascinating life."

"Sigrid af Forselles (1860–1935) and Hilda Flodin (1877–1958) were Rodin’s students and served as his atelier assistants in Paris. The exhibition sheds light on Rodin’s relationship with his Finnish students and reveals new information about Rodin’s contacts with Finland. Af Forselles assisted Rodin in the creation of The Burghers of Calais and the most significant one of her own was the five-part relief History of the Human Soul. Flodin served as Rodin’s assistant from 1903 until 1906. After her return to Finland on 1906, Flodin concentrated mainly on drawing, because sculpture was considered at that time an unsuitable profession for a woman."

"The exhibition is spread through four halls on the 1st and 3rd floors of the museum. Of the 70 works on show, 51 are by Rodin. The exhibition is produced as a collaboration by Stockholm Nationalmuseum, Ateneum Art Museum, Musée Rodin in Paris and its former Chief Curator Antoinette Le Normand-Romain. Many museums and private collectors have given their works on loan for the exhibition."

Allan Österlind: Rodin In His Atelier, 1889. Watercolour on paper, glued on canvas. 73x51,50. Ateneum Art Museum / H. F. Antell testament collection.  Photo: National Gallery / Jouko Könönen. Presumably the only contemporary painting on Rodin taken from the model was made by his Swedish painter friend.

"Dans l'art, il n'y a pas d'immoralité.
L'art est toujours sacré."

"There is no immorality in art.
Art is always sacred."

-Auguste Rodin

In L'œil écoute, his collection of essays about painting, Paul Claudel wrote about "spiritualized flesh" when discussing Spanish painting. That would be also a fitting title for the work of Auguste Rodin whose close companion, colleague and lover Paul's sister Camille Claudel became.

After 50 years, Rodin's work is on display in Helsinki again. Stone, metal, and plaster come alive in forms that seem vibrant with life while acknowledging the inorganic character of the material.

This Nordic touring show based on the Musée Rodin collection has a Nordic flavour. Rodin had Nordic patrons and colleagues. In Finland there was H. F. Antell whose donation is the basis of Ateneum's valuable Rodin collection.

Auguste Rodin: Shadow, 1880, this cast 1964. Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

In the North Rodin was recognized as a modern Michelangelo. Like Michelangelo in Pietà Rodin understood the power of the non finito. That is an approach that brings us to the threshold of comprehension. There are things that are beyond understanding. Yet an artist can bring us to the path of an insight of even such matters.

Auguste Rodin: Je suis belle, plaster 1882, this bronze cast before 1887. Ateneum Art Museum, coll. Antell. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Karjalainen

Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s'est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière
- Charles Baudelaire: Les Fleurs du mal

According to Antoinette Le Normand-Romain's catalogue remarks in this sculpture Rodin immortalized his love and passion with Camille Claudel (in Anne Delbée's novel the story is different). In this exhibition we see the first bronze cast, which was acquired by H. F. Antell.

Auguste Rodin: The Thinker, c 1880, this cast 1889. Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen. Please click to enlarge the images.
The mise-en-scène of a giant version of The Thinker (original 1882, this version 1903, 1909, Waldemarsudde, Stockholm) is a coup of conceptual art.

The Thinker has been placed in a room facing the Railway Square. On the opposite side is the Finnish National Theatre. Over The Thinker's shoulder we can see the monument of Aleksis Kivi, the Finnish national writer, our counterpart to Hugo and Balzac, also immortalized in stone by Rodin. Wäinö Aaltonen always ignored claims of having been influenced by Rodin. Now everybody can make up his own mind.

At Ateneum there are sections devoted to Rodin's Finnish pupils Sigrid af Forselles and Hilda Flodin. Among the contemporary Finnish influences one may also count Ville Vallgren whose Havis Amanda sculpture is the Aphrodite of Finland.

Simultaneously with the Rodin opening there is also a new display of the installation artist Kaarina Kaikkonen transforming the museum's inner courtyard and nearby park with her myriad flying shirts.

The catalogue for the exhibition is a Rodin collector's item with a complete record of the Rodin works on display, special essays on Rodin's Nordic connections in Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, and a bibliography of Rodin's Nordic correspondence.

A book:
Anne Delbée: Camille Claudel. Kuvanveistäjän elämä. (Une femme, Camille Claudel, Presses de la Renaissance, 1982). A biographical novel. Translation into Finnish by Sulamit Hirvas. 354 p. Illustrations of 11 Camille Claudel sculptures. Porvoo - Helsinki - Juva: WSOY, 1989

A moving feature in Helsinki's Auguste Rodin exhibition is the pairing of Auguste Rodin's bust of Camille Claudel and Camille Claudel's bust of Auguste Rodin.

I saw Bruno Nuytten's film Camille Claudel (1988) when it was first released. Isabelle Adjani as Camille Claudel and Gérard Depardieu as Auguste Rodin provide performances that are among the greatest in biopics.

That film was inspired by the novel by Anne Delbée, a theatre director and a Paul Claudel scholar who became fascinated by the talented sister about whom she first wrote a play, then this novel. The Paris art world of the 19th century was hard for men and much harder for women. Camille Claudel perished although she was an exceptionally strong woman psychologically and physically. It was a world of users and a world of macho discrimination. Her work is her legacy. Auguste Rodin was her employer, mentor, and lover, but she soon found an idiom of her own.

I am grateful for Anne Delbée for providing a persuasive account of the tough world of sculpture. You need capital, a lot of time, and a good professional staff to be a sculptor. Auguste Rodin was often in dire straits and Camille Claudel even more so although she dared to sculpt directly into marble unlike Rodin.

Reading this novel I was also thinking about the Finnish sculptor Laila Pullinen (1933-2015) whom I met in passing last year a few months before she died. We exchanged just a few words, but I remember her resilient smile. Camille Claudel was a pathbreaker for all future female sculptors, and Auguste Rodin was her supporter.

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