Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Rodin: Book Review

When I visited Musée Rodin on a warm spring day last year, I instantly fell in love. I knew that would be the kind of place I would like, but I did not know it was going to turn into one of my favourite museums in Paris (and as we know, there is quite a big competition in this artful city). Truth is, Hôtel Biron is simply stunning, surrounded by gorgeous gardens perfect for strolls in the sun while admiring one man’s undisputable genius.

Although it is undisputable today, Rodin’s genius was not always recognised – on the contrary, some of his work, including his Monument to Victor Hugo raised quite a lot of eyebrows and proved to be among the more controversial sculptures of the time. Indeed, there is a lot more to his work than the eternal embrace in The Kiss.

“Instinct and personal genius were what conducted to the originality which placed his work above and outside its time.”

Author: Bernard Champigneulle
Genre: Art, Non-fiction, Biography
Pages: 288
Originally published in: 1999

Bernard Champigneulle’s Rodin is a well-written and very informative book on the sculptor – it studies his life from early childhood to his final days, reflecting on his relationships with women, family, friends, and other influential figures of the time. From who commissioned some of his most famous works to who hated them and criticized them, this is a great read for anyone who wants to learn more about Rodin.

Make no mistake, Champigneulle’s book is not a novel, or a dramatized retelling of a famous person’s story. This is non-fiction, part of the World of Art series of illustrated books on art and therefore it provides quite a lot of detail into the sculptor’s life – both in the atelier and outside of it, as everything played some part in his working process (isn’t that true for all creators?). However, this does not mean that Rodin is a dry textbook that cannot be enjoyed by anyone who is not after an art degree. It is a great book as long as you are someone interested in sculpture, art in general, influential figures of the 19th-20th century, artists who used to work in Paris, European artists, and so on, you get the idea.

The book is set out in chronological order so it follows Rodin’s rising without making needless time jumps and getting ahead of itself and of its readers – something that is quite helpful for a first time reader of anything on Rodin. Furthermore, this is the time to point out that Champigneulle’s book makes for a perfect first read on the sculptor – it provides enough insight into his life to be enough on its own, but it also manages to put a good start to the conversation: it gets the subject out there and invites you to read more into it, to further your knowledge. The book covers some intriguing episodes of Rodin's public life that are full of drama and competition, but it is his love life that probably intrigues most people - indeed, there is time for the great love of his life in this one, too.

As Bernard Champigneulle was the vice president of the Association de Critiques d’Art, it feels like he is just the right person to start you on a journey in art history. He does comment quite a lot on the subjects he discusses and is not afraid to express his opinion on various characters who made an appearance in Rodin’s life – this might feel out of place in other art books, but not in this one as his opinions are not forced but rather feel like gentle remarks and suggestions.

Anyway, apart from the author’s comments, descriptions and retellings, the book is also full of illustrations and pictures of Rodin’s work as well as some of his correspondence – I have always found a biography is not full without a peek into the subject’s letters. After all, how can you get a proper idea of that person otherwise? Isn’t it in their letters where we often find something about them? In the way they refer to others, in the way they talk about what they love, in Rodin’s case – in the way they talk about their creations?

“It needs to be said, and said loudly. This work, which people have laughed at and tried to make fun of because they cannot destroy it, is the end product of my entire life and the very hub of my aesthetic. I was a changed man from the day I first conceived it. I developed along radical lines, forging links between the great traditions of the past and my own time – links which grow stronger with every passing day.”

…As we walked out of Musée Rodin and into its gift shop, I was still haunted by Rodin’s world – its gentle simplicity found in a lovers’ kiss and its quiet genius lingering in every small detail of each and every bust. Oh joy, there is at least one book that has an English Edition sticker on it! I am still working on my French, until then I walk away with this translated copy of Rodin, into the freshly washed by the rain streets of Paris, and with a heart full of happiness that I am bringing a part of this eternal peace with me.

No comments :

Post a Comment