The face is lost in the stone like a large sob, towards the hand set in the block’s icy eternity. (Rainer Maria Rilke)
Starting with Rodin celebrates several donations to the Winnipeg Art Gallery from The Salgo Trust for Education, chiefly the bronze sculpture La Danaïde (original marble, 1998-92) by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). This forms part of a donation by The Trust of works that range from French empire-style furniture, through silver and Dutch paintings, to portrait miniatures, Chinese ceramics and important Hungarian Modernist sculpture by Janos Mattis-Teutsch and Etienne Beothy. The Acquisition of La Danaïde offers an opportunity to assemble works from the WAG’s collection in order to reflect on the continued importance of Rodin to the history of Western sculpture; his late-nineteenth-century transformation of Neo-Classicism into a set of principles foundational for modern art.
Rodin’s oeuvre is presented here as a kind of pivot point in the ongoing reception by Western artists of the Classical heritage, and the ideals of perfection, harmony, balance and subdued sensuality to which many Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical sculptors subsequently aspired.
While many of Rodin’s artistic predecessors and contemporaries strove for wholeness in their own work, despite the fragmentary nature of Classical archaeological finds, Rodin’s innovation was to embrace the fragment as an ideal. His frank eroticism, furthermore, revived a suppressed aspect of ancient art. From the Impressionists, as well as from the Renaissance conception of non-finito, Rodin adapted the aesthetic of the “unfinished,” which both calls attention to the process of the work’s making, and suggests the “authenticity” of the immediate, of the sketch.
It is on Rodin’s elevation of the classical fragment that much modern sculpture rests. Examples of European and Canadian modern sculpture instantiate the Rodinèsque aesthetic. Some harken back to Neo-Classicist ideals, while others overtake Rodin in subverting them, but they all respond to Rodin’s wholesale reinterpretation of the Western Classical heritage. As far as the modern in sculpture goes, it all starts with Rodin.
Dr. Oliver A. I. Botar, Professor, Art History, University of Manitoba; Curator, The Salgo Trust for Education