Saturday Adventures: Rodin at the British Museum

The British Museum
The British Museum

I know things are getting back to normal in my brain as Saturdays are becoming days for doing things again. Out and about things. Last week I had lunch at a vegan cafe in Neal’s Yard then went to the ballet (The Sleeping Beauty at the Coliseum, gorgeous). This week I went to the British Museum to see the Rodin exhibition.

My knowledge of Rodin (1840-1917) extended to his two most famous sculptures: The Kiss and The Thinker. Both appeal, The Kiss for its sensuality and The Thinker for its heft. Intertwined bodies and oversized hands and feet both do it for me, sculpture-wise. I was hoping that this exhibition would be a chance to learn more about Rodin himself and his work.

Rodin's The Kiss
The Kiss

The exhibition is titled ‘Rodin and the art of Ancient Greece’ and it focuses on how influenced the artist was by classical statuary, showcasing Rodin’s work alongside pieces from Ancient Greece. It also includes part of Rodin’s own collection of Ancient Greek work that inspired him and that he used in assemblages – few of which were ever displayed publicly.

There’s a very short film clip just outside the main room showing Rodin at work, which is worth watching through a few times for the gloriousness of watching his huge beard getting filled with little flakes as he works. The exhibition proper opens with Athena with the Parthenon, a bust of the goddess sprouting the Parthenon from her head in a twist on her own birth, perhaps. The notes on this are helpful, pointing the viewer to look at the difference between her highly finished face and the contrasting roughness of the hair and building. It’s a striking and interesting opening.

The most obvious attractions for me were the plaster cast of The Kiss, and reading that plaster versions were often made and displayed before a marble ‘finished’ version made if the piece proved popular/saleable, and of course, The Thinker, sitting in his contemplative glory. There are some things that you can’t see too many times and every viewing is as exciting and powerful as the last.

The Thinker

There were also some new to me works that I took an especial liking to. Pieces where the figures emerge from the media are thrilling, it’s as if they are forming before your eyes. And Rodin’s invention of a sister for Icarus was perhaps my favourite smaller-scale piece.

As I walked around the one big room the exhibition is housed in I collected snippets of knowledge about the sculptor. I now know how inspired he was by the sculpture of Ancient Greece, despite never visiting Greece himself, and that he considered the 5th century BC sculptor Pheidias as the pinnacle of artistic achievement. I learned how much Rodin loved the British Museum and therefore why the exhibition has special resonance there. I peeked into Rodin’s private life and the blurred boundaries between his relationships with women and his work. Perhaps everyone else knew that so much of his work actually stemmed from one big project – The Gates of Hell, to be part of a never-built new museum in Paris – but I didn’t. That would have been an impressive sight. Oh, and one last fun fact, he never carved in marble himself.

It’s not the most extensive exhibition, but with an Art Fund Card admission is half price and it’s definitely worth the £8.50 entrance fee, I had a good hour wandering round. The postcard selection in the shop is good too, always important and especially so when you have to admit you have neither the finances nor space to collect every exhibition catalogue.

The exhibition is on until the end of July – more information on the British Museum website here.

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