Leaving Rodin behind? Sculpture in Paris, 1905-1914

ARCHIVE
2009

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Wilhelm LehmbruckTorso of a Woman Walking© Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln
Around 1900, in sculpture, there was a pressing desire to find a new formal approach. The theories of the German sculptor Lehmbruck were symptomatic from this point of view. In his writings, he particularly condemned "unbridled sentimental inventiveness", making explicit references to Rodin's art..

At that time, artists from all over Europe were in Paris, revealing in their respective styles, the same preoccupations. Although modern sculpture was being revealed to a wide audience in international exhibitions like the Sonderbund in Cologne in 1912, and the Armory Show in New York in 1913, it was in the French capital that ideas were discussed and exchanged. Between the 1890s and the start of the First World War, Minne, Gonzalez, Brancusi, Hoetger, Archipenko and Lehmbruck all stayed, met and exhibited in Paris.

Rodin: fascination and repulsion

Auguste RodinPrayer© Adagp, Paris 2009 - Musée Rodin, photo Bruno Jarret
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Rodin was at the height of his glory. His many international exhibitions gave an accurate indication of the esteem in which he was held. From the 1890s, he exhibited regularly in Germany, Austria and Belgium. In 1900, his private exhibition in a pavilion on the Place de l'Alma made a huge impact and preceded a series of one man exhibitions across Europe: Dresden and Venice in 1901; Prague in 1902; Düsseldorf, Dresden, Weimar and Leipzig in 1904. Everywhere he went, he attracted young artists like a magnet, all of whom went through a Rodin-style period.

To the generation of sculptors coming forward in the 1890s, faced with the conventions of Academic art and the death throes of Realism, Rodin seemed to be the one who had breathed new life into their art form. The early works of Joseph Bernard, Gaudier-Brzeska, Brancusi, Picasso and Zadkine, all reflect Rodin's undeniable influence. Indeed, some of them worked for him: Bourdelle, Brancusi, Maillol, Pompon, etc.

Aristide MaillolYoung Girl with Drapery© Adagp, Paris 2009, © C.Thériez (dist. RMN-Grand Palais)
But very quickly they began to abhor these monstrous subjects, filled with pathos: the twitching flesh, the twisted figures, torn apart and decapitated, losing all structure. No one expressed the logic of this reversal better than Carl Einstein: "The emotional charge abolished three dimensional space; the artist's signature swept it away. […] The arrangement was to have a creator at the height of his emotional powers on the one side and a spectator at the height of emotion on the other. The dynamic of the individual processes triumphed". As if dissolved by its role as a conductor of emotions, the work took away with it "any meaningful canon of form and vision". Artists then began to shun this aesthetic, wishing to abandon expression and return to form.

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