When reproached for only showing “simple parts of the human body”, Rodin defended the expressive force of the partial figure: “Those people,” he said, “didn’t they understand anything about sculpture? About study? Don’t they think that an artist has to apply himself to giving as much expression to a hand or a torso as to a face? And that he is logical and far more of an artist to exhibit an arm rather than a “bust” arbitrarily deprived by tradition of its arms, legs and abdomen? Expression and proportion are the goals. Modelling is the means: it’s through modelling that flesh lives, vibrates, struggles and suffers…” (Rodin cited by D. Viéville, Rodin-Freud, p. 165, courtesy www.musée-rodin.fr)
One of the greatest and most prolific sculptors in all art history, Rodin created artworks which were steeped in the art of the past and paved the way for modernity. Inspired by ancient Greek and Roman marbles and by Michelangelo’s magnificent Slaves, Rodin re-imagined fragmentary human forms and made them complete art works. He rebelled against the prevailing 19th century taste for finished composition and recognizable subject matter, and discarded the notion that artwork needed to depict a human form in its entirety.
Among Rodin’s greatest innovations was the use of assemblage, which unified his technical and creative methods. Heads, limbs, hands, torsos and feet were individually and painstakingly modelled by the artist in small format, then reassembled and enlarged. Working in small scale allowed Rodin to imagine and experiment with compositions without being constrained by technical problems. Small works were also easier to handle and protected the artist from accusations that he had made casts from life, as was the case with his 1877 work Age of Bronze.
By the time Rodin’s work had intensified in the late 1880s in preparation for the monumental Gates of Hell commission, he had amassed a large collection of sculptures of body parts. Originally executed in plaster, terra cotta or wax, these fragments, and in particular the hands, were rarely if ever cast in the artist’s lifetime. Our 5 sculptures of hands, are intriguing in the variety of size, form, detail and gesture that they present. They were each cast in small editions by Alexis and Georges Rudier under the supervision of the Musée Rodin, from 1945-1975.