Saturday, February 16

intimate complexities

Wandering off from the workshop he would walk to nearby gardens, sit and study the intricacies of foliage, examine the particularities of individual leaves. Squinting into the sun, Rodin noted each effect that light produced on the surface—a consequence of his position or that of the leaf? Or was nature only jesting with him, doubting his senses, his abilities as draftsman, as artist? In his mind he saw how structure remained consistent, how the veins of each leaf divided, tracing the whole form of the tree on a reduced scale. By bringing back this observed detail of the specific, and incorporating it into his work as ornamentalist, Rodin invented ideas of order concerning the decorative that transcended the familiar. So precise were his points of departure that each of his small creations in plaster could bear extravagance without looking distorted. As leaf subsided to leaf, joined together in long sequences, the well-worked details of vein and stem, flesh and form, came alive. As sculpted by Rodin, nature was infused with a brilliant character, granted it by a hand that was guided by the mind—his hand, and his alone. Any attempt at mimetic reproduction of detail was countered by an artistic will beginning to assert itself, however modest the context.

These insights into the intimate complexities of a single subject proved crucial to Rodin's thinking as an artist and would come to play a formative role in his conception of the human body, in how he understood the relationship between external, visible musculature and internal, determining structure. Yes, nature was the source of all fertile refinement in human thought about creation, about how man could overcome his situation and fashion from it a comprehensive equivalent that transcended emulation. Extensive artistic observation of nature served to privilege the mind above the wealth of detail recognizable in such wrested cadences as a flower's color, the lean contours of a leaf, or the rigid designs of foliage trained to support architecture. There must have been a fragrance that escaped from the sculpting of so rich a form.

-- Rainer Crone and David Moos, on the young Auguste Rodin's career as an ornamentalist, in Rodin: Eros and Creativity

musée Rodin