Many consider Auguste Rodin to be the most important sculptor in Western art to emerge following the Renaissance, and after visiting the Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s latest exhibition that celebrates his work, it’s easy to understand why. The pieces on display are part of the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, but OKC is lucky enough to be one of two American cities to hold the works while that museum is currently under renovation.
True Nature: Rodin and the Age of Impressionism features 100 pieces of art, with 50 works by Rodin in a variety of sizes and scales. Everything from smaller pieces under glass to monumental sculptures historically viewed outdoors is represented, and other famed artists and contemporaries of Rodin, such as Monet, Degas and Renoir, are also featured throughout the exhibition.
The first work of Rodin’s that visitors encounter as they enter is the realistic sculpture Saint John the Baptist Preaching, which features the subject caught in a state of movement, preaching mid-stride. Rather than use a model in a traditional stationary pose, Rodin hired an Italian peasant named Pignatelli to model John the Baptist to give movement to the sculpture and bring it to life. This unique and influential nontraditional point of view is evident as you explore the collection.
By 1900, Rodin had roughly 100 artisans working under him, allowing him the flexibility to work on a large volume of pieces. Rodin was known for taking fragments from other projects and combining them to create new sculptures, as seen in Female Centaur, which combines a female torso with a horse body, also on display.
The exhibition explains the process of casting a sculpture in bronze step by step, from the sketches to the final product. Rodin worked in plaster, clay and marble, and while he did cast some of his works in his lifetime, many were not cast until after his death in 1917.
“Rodin gave the works that were meant to be cast to the French government a year before he died,” said Michael Anderson, OKCMOA president and CEO. “The Musée Rodin was established and, to this day, are in charge of casting his work and preserving his legacy. The French government has set up a series of laws that dictates what is or is not an official work of Rodin. There can only be 12 castings in bronze of a specific size that have to be signed and dated. The first eight are put on the market and sold, and the other four are reserved for museums or institutions. In many cases, they are cast from the same plasters that existed in Rodin’s lifetime.”
True Nature is on the third floor of the OKCMOA, a location that provides more space and natural light to highlight the beauty of Rodin’s bronze sculptures. There are three major commissions in the exhibition: The Gates of Hell, The Burghers of Calais and Monument to Honoré de Balzac. These heavy, larger-than-life sculptures were originally intended to be viewed outside.
As visitors round the last corner of the exhibit, the incredible 9-foot-tall, 1,900-pound Monument to Honoré de Balzac is displayed prominently in a nearly empty room. This contemplative piece took six hours to install and is positioned on the most structurally sound area of the third floor. Paired with bright green arched walls and a sculpture of Rodin himself by his student Antoine Bourdelle, this masterpiece is truly something inspiring.
True Nature: Rodin and the Age of Impressionism is on display through Oct. 22 at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. For more information, visit okcmoa.com.
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