Around the sculpture: Pose and Variations. In the age of Rodin and his contemporaries
With the curatorship of Luísa Sampaio and Rune Frederiksen, the sculpture exhibition in the main gallery of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is currently the most important show at this institution. It cannot simply be missed and it will be open until the end of February.
Structured on the similarities between the two collections, the event is the outcome of a partnership between contemporary collectors – Calouste Gulbenkian and Carl Jacobsen, of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, the next stop of Pose and Variations. The show gathers pieces of 19th century French sculpture with Rodin, Carpeaux, Dalou, Dubois, Puech, Houdon, Joseph Bernard and Maillol and is also part of the current holiday season, since it contains values inherent to the human being: love, tenderness, motherhood and family, an environment that suggests a peaceful contemplation.
There are thirty figurative sculptures, distributed in five different nuclei with key themes, depending on the varying positions of the bodies: the absence of pose; the crouching figure; motherhood; figures intertwined; and the one standing. The majority has been done on a reduced scale, with different materials, from patinated plaster to terracotta, from marble to bronze.
One of the most important points is the creation of a shadow that surrounds the pieces, a welcoming and noiseless atmosphere, as if they were jewels and precious stones, where the light is intensely focused on them, inviting the visitor’s stare to delve into a sublime perfection, almost eternal and timeless. The bodies speak and dance alongside us and the glances communicate with each other in a sort of complicity, particularly in the groups where a dancing movement surrounds them, in a dizzying ballet.
“With Rodin, sculpture initiates a rupture in the adventure of modernity.”
Inside the room, the created environment refers to the shadow projection of the works reflected in the walls, as well as in the exterior through the transparency of the large windowpanes, where the pieces extend themselves through the garden as if they are hovering around virtually planted moments. The effectiveness of this process is absolute, given that the days are shorter at this time of year.
The small pieces, walled in showcases, where we can look at them closely, are the most delicate, done in patinated plaster, particularly the Flora sculpture, a piece of rare quality, under a baroque undertone within eighteenth-century academic precepts or the Wounded Cupid, both of Carpeaux. Flora is inspired by two ancient models: The Toilet of Venus and Venus emerging from the waves. Its three-dimensionality is precisely what makes it innovative, as it allows the spectator to look at it from different angles. This nucleus intends to depict the daily activities through the female figure, and countless classic versions are known, particularly the goddess Venus. In many cases, the models appear to have been caught off guard, covering the most sensitive areas of the body.
From this set, one sees there are pieces with the representation of the same model, developed in a position adjustment, executed from a wide array of materials with different versions and/or a change of scale; producing other compositions, showing the intrinsic qualities of the respective material. Joseph Bernard’s Young Girl Carrying Water is one of the sober pieces that close the exhibition, one of the few examples of the (standing figure) nucleus from the female perspective.
A unique sensuality is visible in the sculptural groups, in the strict study of the unification of bodies, where the figures emerge intertwined, such as Rodin’s Eternal Springtime, an abstract construction surrounding a compact mass, providing bold expressions of clearly modern values for the time.
Indeed, Rodin’s sculptures, the exhibition’s pivotal name and a tutelary figure of the artists of his time, allured his contemporaries. His pieces are unique from the formal standpoint, under an individual style, with inimitable working methods. With Rodin, the sculpture unleashes a rupture in the adventure of modernity, it is the poetry of the moment when capturing an ephemeral gesture in an understanding of the work of art. His models did not assume a static pose before the artist, where the movement unfurls without any sort of embarrassment. Rodin, reflecting on his craft, said that the sculptor is the one who depicts the passage from one pose to another.