Auguste Rodin / The Poet and the Contemplative Life / 1896Auguste Rodin
The Poet and the Contemplative Life

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Creator Name: Rodin, Auguste
Creator Dates/Places: French, 1840 - 1917
Creator Name-CRT: Auguste Rodin
Title: The Poet and the Contemplative Life
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1896
Creation End Date: 1896
Creation Date: 1896
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: White marble
Dimensions: unmeasured
AMICA Contributor: Dallas Museum of Art
Owner Location: Dallas, Texas, USA
ID Number: 1985.R.64
Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection
Context: Rodin aspired to be, and almost succeeded in becoming, the Michelangelo of modern sculpture. No single figure in the 19th century can match the sheer range, ambition, and scale of his achievement, and no true history of European sculpture could omit him. Almost as if to challenge Baudelaire's famous essay 'Why Sculpture is Boring,' written for his review of the 1846 Salon (Baudelaire 1961, 943-45), Rodin reinvigorated figural sculpture just as the impressionists were giving new life to the pictorial arts in France. Nevertheless, because of the traditionalism and craft-based production of sculpture, Rodin's art has more (and more obvious) debts to Renaissance and baroque art than does the painting of the impressionists and their followers.Throughout his long life, Rodin produced work for the official Salon, and the Reves marble, the most important work by Rodin in a public collection in Texas, is among the most enigmatic of these works. 'The Poet and the Contemplative Life' was commissioned from Rodin by Maurice Fenaille and was completed in 1896. It was included both in the Salon of 1897 and in the major Rodin exhibition held on the place d'Alma during the 1900 Paris World's Fair. Like the model for 'Monument to Labor' (Musýe Rodin, Meudon), the 'Gates of Hell' (Musýe Rodin, Paris), and the monumental sculptural groups dedicated to Claude Lorrain and Victor Hugo, the Reves marble combines a large number of human figures with allegorical elements, all of which seem to spring from architecture. This fusion of sculpture and architecture characterized Rodin's late career and has been linked to contemporary currents in European symbolism. In fact, the roots of Rodin's fantasies go back further to baroque sculpture.Who is the poet whose mournful disembodied head rests atop the chaste capital on this riotous figural column? In all probability, the head is a symbol of 'poetry' rather than a representation of a particular poet, although many of Rodin's contemporaries must have associated the work's appearance in 1897 with the death of Stýphane Mallarmý in 1896. The head is reminiscent of an earlier Rodin marble, entitled 'Thought' (Musýe Rodin, Paris), which was modeled on the well-known features of Camille Claudel, Rodin's model, mistress, student, colleague, and assistant. If the head signifies 'poetry' as an intellectual or cerebra, rather than sensual, activity, Rodin contrasts this idea with the riot of human figures, symbols, passions, and allegorical forms that crowd together in the column below. In his insistence on separating the 'body' of the column from the 'head' by means of a stylized capital, Rodin suggests that poetry resides in the head itself, not in the body on which it rests, as a sculpture rests on a base.The emblem of the disembodied head had been exploited in similar 'literary' contexts by Odilon Redon, and Rodin's melancholic head has many affinities with the pictorial prototypes produced by the younger artist.'Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection,' page 123
AMICA ID: DMA_.1985.R.64
AMICA Library Year: 2003
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