Review: Rodin & Dance, The Courtauld Gallery ‘A Rare Glimpse into a Private Passion’

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The Courtauld Gallery has curated a wonderfully intimate and intriguing display on a private passion that occupied Auguste Rodin during the last two decades of his life.

From the end of the nineteenth century, Rodin became fascinated with avant-garde dance forms. He was intrigued by the flexibility of acrobats he saw in Paris at the time, mesmerised by the flow and movement of dancers such as Isadora Duncan, and fascinated with the hyperextension in elegant hand placement in South Asian dancers. And all of this he captured in a series of models and drawings that became known as the Mouvements de Danse (Dance Movements) series.

Comprised of sketches and experimental small-scale models, this series was a little-known body of work that Rodin worked on privately – he would occasionally show these to friends or visitors but they were never shown publicly. So, it is remarkable that now The Courtauld has managed to secure these figures and drawings, as well as accompanying watercolours and bronzes, and photography and sketches in this, the first major exhibition of this series in the UK.

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The bronzes were cast from the original plaster models after Rodin’s death for preservation but it is wonderful to see such a range of work from Rodin here. A central figure in these works was Alda Moreno, a popular acrobat who modelled for him and who he sketched repeatedly.

Though Rodin could sketch pretty quickly, there’s a lovely blur to some of his drawings, where you can sense Moreno having to make slight adjustments to her posture in order to keep her balance and remain as static as she could in the most ridiculously flexible and extraordinary positions. Tripod poses, the splits, lunges, stretching… Nothing seemed beyond her. Or Rodin.

That Moreno had an unusually flexible spine helped her contortions and some of the postures are a terrific testament to the abilities of the human body. Rodin would use a lot of these studies to help his other, more public, work, most notably The Gates of Hell, 1887-1917. But nevertheless, this collection stands as a fascinating and worthy body of work in its own right.

I was particularly drawn to the watercolours, where fleshy pink tones brought life to these forms. It’s worth noting that these models are often nude and Rodin had a tendency to put their genitalia front and centre but there is such life and dynamism to these works. They are exciting, exhilarating even.

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There’s also an intriguing discovery here too. There are male nudes and male models used here too. It had long been rumoured that Rodin met Nijinsky about this time (Nijinsky widely considered to be one of the greatest male dancers, well, ever really) but for a long time there was no evidence of such a meeting.

However, in the 1950s, Musée Rodin identified a mould in their collection that was Nijinsky. A plaster was cast from it in 1957 and, subsequently a bronze. And these two figures are on display here too. Only about six inches in height – and impressively balancing on a single foot whilst the other is clutched waist-high in his hands – but, nevertheless, evidence that these two greats not only met, but that Nijinsky modelled for Rodin and, no doubt, found himself incorporated into many other works.

A wonderfully intimate and intriguing collection of work that shows the private interests of a great public figure.

The Courtauld Gallery, London, to January 22, 2017
Free with General Admission £9.50 (concessions available)

Image Credits:
1. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) Dance Movement c. 1911 Terracotta, 34.3 x 18.1 cm Musée Rodin, Paris, France
2. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Dance Movement A c. 1911. Plaster, 31 x 13 cm Musée Rodin, Paris, France
3. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) Standing Nude Holding Her Right Leg c. 1903 Pencil with stump on paper, 31.2 x 20.1 cm Musée Rodin, Paris, France

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