Rodin's major work is, in one form or another, on show at the Royal Academy (until 1 January). The exhibition begins in the Burlington House courtyard with The Gates of Hell. Most of the main gallery is filled with The Burghers of Calais and studies for it. Many are more than life-size; they take you by the scruff and hold your eye. Accompanying The Burghers is a small bronze of the final version of Balzac as well as the striding nude study for it in plaster (shown here). Elsewhere there is a plaster of The Kiss at the original size, as well as the enlarged marble version from the Tate. The Thinker is there, small and large, in early and late versions. There are many portrait busts in bronze, plaster and marble, a room of drawings and many contemporary photographs of the sculpture. The life is documented in photographs as well as letters. The abundance of small pieces, those from the Musée Rodin in particular, make it possible to follow the journeys that figures and groups of figures made from early appearances in The Gates of Hell to late ones, singly or in new combinations. The range is very great: from the conventionally decorative terracotta head of Spring (c.1875) to the battered, gouged, turnip-shaped Head, Over Life-Size done some time before 1911. In the catalogue Catherine Lampert says of the Head that 'it is volumetric, but not in the manner of the "Boisgeloup" heads by Picasso or the formidable "Henriette" studies by Matisse still to come.* The context for seeing those busts with their impassive features requires the interim achievements of artists who studied with Rodin and wished to reject meaning and touch - Aristide Maillol, Jacques Lipchitz and Charles Despiau, for example.'
LRB 5 October 2006 | PDF Download