Eighteen members of the Exhibitions and Galleries Group gathered in small clusters at Tate Modern on 9 June for the first post-lockdown visit to the Rodin exhibition, followed by socially distanced coffee in the strangely empty 3rd floor café. The group included some new members as well as old-stagers, and it was a great pleasure to meet at a gallery again despite the logistical complexities of organising a visit in compliance with COVID rules, the constraints of one-way systems at Tate and within the exhibition, and most of all being masked throughout the journey and in the building.
The exhibition is almost entirely composed of plaster casts owned in the main by the Rodin Museum in Paris. The central gallery is a replica of the pavilion which Rodin designed for the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris. There too, Rodin exhibited plaster casts. Plaster allowed Rodin to alter and revise work easily. He built up a collection of limbs, hands, feet and modelled heads which he used in different configurations, drawing inspiration from fragmented Greek and Roman statuary which he believed heightened expressive power.
Plaster casts as well as a few marble and bronze versions of Rodin’s greatest sculptures such as the Burghers of Calais, The Thinker, The Kiss and the monument to Balzac show why Rodin is regarded by critics as the first modern sculptor, whose work marked a significant departure from classical sculpture. His is a warts and all depiction of human bodies rather than the idealised beauty created by earlier sculptors. It is also interesting in showing the imprint of the sculptor and his assistants with finger and palette knife marks clearly visible.
The next visit will be to the British Museum’s Becket exhibition on a date to be announced in July.