Rodin and the art of experimentation
Throughout his career, Rodin used the technique of assemblage, where he brought together different objects, either whole or fragmentary, often mixing the ancient with the modern. From the 1890s he became increasingly experimental, creating strangely poetic new compositions.
Rodin reused several of his own sculptures in his assemblages, and was particularly inspired by the vast number of figures from his major work The Gates of Hell (including The Kiss and The Thinker).
For example, this figure of a crouching woman (entitled The Sphinx) was originally from the right door panel of The Gates of Hell. In the assemblage known as the Birth of Venus, the sphinx has been rotated in order to connect it to the other figure.
In this incredible assemblage you can see several nails which are reference points, as this plaster cast was used to carve a marble version. You might also notice that some parts (the arms and the head) don’t seem fully integrated into the body. This is because Rodin put together small parts of the body from different sculptures, which he called ‘abattis’, to create a new work of art.
From about 1895 Rodin started to collect ceramics and began exploring the technique of creating assemblages with some of these ancient vases. He would choose a figure and a vase that would form a harmonious group, and joined the two elements together with plaster. In a very modern manner, Rodin reused ancient vases as so-called ‘readymades’ for his sculpture.
Here you can see a maquette which shows the figure of the Birth of Venus without arms, simply assembled with Rodin’s Head of a Slavic Woman. This was probably a preparatory study for the Birth of Venus above. In the Birth of Venus, Rodin added two arms to complete the sculpture. Unlike this maquette with the Head of a Slavic Woman, in the later work, he positioned the two heads so that the two figures are looking at each other.
The Head of a Slavic Woman was reproduced many times in Rodin’s studio. You can imagine how the space was strewn with many small pieces of sculpture, all ready to be assembled.
Rodin also stuck the same Venus figure without any head onto a plaster cast from a Greek Boeotian cup. The original material, texture and function of the vase were altered, leaving only its shape in a new material that was integrated into Rodin’s sculpture. The body emerges from the mouth of the vase defying gravity, at the very edge of imbalance.
The same energy of the body emerging from water is present on this drawing, also titled Birth of Venus.
The recurring sculpted figure of the Birth of Venus appears again in an assemblage with an ancient vase in the shape of a basket known as a kalathos. Rodin revered antiquities, and this vase from his own collection became incorporated as an element of his own work through his use of the assemblage technique. The small female figure, in a relaxed pose, rests casually on the rim.
These assemblages reveal that Rodin’s studio was a laboratory of endless experimentation and ideas.
You can discover many of these pieces and other sculptures by Rodin in the exhibition Rodin and the art of ancient Greece (until 29 July 2018).
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