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FRIDAY, SEPT. 12, 2008

Retrospective Features The Thinker, The Kiss, The Gates of Hell

NASHVILLE, TENN.—(Aug. 14, 2008)—The Frist Center for the Visual Arts will open
Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession, Sculpture from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation Friday, Sept. 12, 2008. Featuring more than 60 bronze sculptures, from small studies to monumental works by Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), the exhibition illustrates the artist’s innovative contributions to modern sculpture. Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession spans the length of Rodin’s career and includes casts of renowned works such as The Thinker (1880) and The Kiss
(ca. 1881–82). The exhibition has been organized and made possible by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, the largest and most comprehensive private collection of works by Rodin. Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession continues through Jan. 4, 2009.

At the peak of his career Rodin was regarded as the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo
(1475–1564). He devised his own expressive language, conveying the vitality of the human spirit through a vigorous modeling technique that emphasized his personal response to the subject.
Linking the French academic tradition, which idealized the human form, with the experimental ethos of modernism, Rodin frequently achieved a dynamic interplay between stasis and movement. In many of his sculptures tension is created by contrasting highly refined aspects of human anatomy and areas of unfinished clay or marble, an approach he admired in certain of Michelangelo’s works. Rodin’s reputation as the leading sculptor of his time led to such major commissions as The Gates of Hell (1880–ca. 1900), Burghers of Calais (1884), and Monument to Honoré de Balzac (1897).

“This exhibition is a wonderful follow-up to Monet to Dalí: Modern Masters from the Cleveland Museum of Art, shown earlier this year at the Frist Center. That exhibition featured several major works by Rodin, showing him in the context of burgeoning modernism in late 19th century

Paris,” says Mark Scala, chief curator at the Frist Center. “In contrast, A Magnificent Obsession enables visitors to explore his genius in far greater depth, to understand the sources and concepts that inspired Rodin’s passionate outlook on life, which may in turn inspire us as it has so many people around the world.”

A broad survey, Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession, includes significant sculptures and studies from the artist’s career, from his early years as an artist, his commissioned work and more.

Early Work

In his teens, Rodin attended the government school for craft and design, where he learned to draw plaster casts of ancient sculpture and to model in clay. Although he sought admission to the prestigious École des Beaux Arts, he was rejected three times. Rodin’s struggle for recognition dominated his early career. During the 1860s Rodin submitted his work to the annual juried Paris Salon exhibitions—the most important shows of their day—but suffered a series of rejections. In 1877 his work was finally admitted to the Salon. Significant early works, such as Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose (1863–64) and Bust of Jean-Baptiste Rodin (1860), Rodin’s earliest portrait and first known sculpture of his father, are included in the exhibition.

The Gates of Hell

During Rodin’s time, the most highly regarded sculptures were projects created for public places, because they were thought to have universal rather than personal meaning. Rodin received his first public commission in 1880 to create a sculptural entrance for a new museum of decorative arts in Paris, which ultimately was never built.

The Gates of Hell (1880–ca. 1900) featured hundreds of figures modeled in low to high relief and in the round. The imagery was inspired by Dante Alighieri’s (1265–1321) Inferno, which was part of The Divine Comedy—an epic poem written about 1308 that depicted the author’s fictional journey through Hell and Purgatory to Paradise. Rodin’s environment of tormented souls represents not only the underworld but also the suffering of humankind in general.

Rodin made many of the figures originally modeled for The Gates of Hell into freestanding, independent sculptures, often either reducing or enlarging them. When separated from the original The Gates of Hell, these works achieved new meanings. Among the most well known of these independent pieces are The Thinker (1880), The Kiss (ca. 1881–82), and The Three Shades (1880–1904), each on view in the exhibition. This practice of using fragments or sections from one project in multiple ways and producing them in various sizes was part of Rodin’s creative method from 1880 onward.

Lost-Wax Casting Process

This portion of the exhibition provides visitors with a step-by-step view of the lost-wax casting process, the most common casting method used through the centuries for all kinds of bronze objects. It allows the artist to reproduce the delicate nuances of an original clay, plaster or wax model.

Studies for Monuments to Balzac and Burghers of Calais

The Monument to Honoré de Balzac: In 1891 Rodin was commissioned by the Societé des Gens de Lettres (Society of Men of Letters) to create a monument to Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), one of France’s most influential yet controversial writers. For the next seven years Rodin struggled to find an accurate physical portrayal of Balzac that would also symbolize the writer’s creative genius.

Since Balzac had been dead for 40 years, Rodin also faced the challenge of rendering a likeness of a man he had never seen. He consulted photographs, a process in its infancy in Balzac’s time, and conducted other research. During his attempts to achieve a compelling likeness of Balzac, Rodin completed at least 50 studies; some convey the writer’s actual appearance while others are more subjective and abstract.

In 1898 Rodin presented the final plan for the Balzac commission to the public. The nine-foot plaster model, highly modern in its abstraction, was met with outrage, disbelief, and ridicule; as a result the literary society would not accept it. Deeply hurt by the criticism, Rodin refused to allow the sculpture to be cast during his lifetime.

Burghers of Calais (1884–1888): Commissioned by the French city of Calais, this monument represents an event that occurred there in 1347, during the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453). Six leading citizens volunteered themselves for execution by the English in exchange for their lifting an 11-month siege of their city.

Rodin was asked to commemorate this event by designing a monument for the town square. He completed many studies before deciding on his final version. He modeled the figures nude before clothing them for the final version. Later he continued to work with these figures, creating enlargements and reductions, and incorporating partial figures into other compositions.

Rodin’s final version defied French artistic traditions for portraying heroism. Instead of depicting these citizens as lofty and selfless, the artist showed each at the moment he realized the limits of his own resolve to sacrifice himself. The figures are barefoot, wearing sackcloth, and their individual responses to their plight are evident in their various tormented or despondent poses and gestures. Rodin’s shift from a focus on triumphant glory to human suffering changed the form and meaning of the public monument as it was known at the time.

The exhibition features several studies of individual figures and heads and an early maquette of the monument.

Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession also features portraits, maquettes, partial figures and hands by the artist. Supplemental items including works on paper, photographs, portraits of the artist and a film about The Gates of Hell are on view as well.

Related Programs

Saturday, September 13 Curator’s Perspective:
2 p.m. “Two Magnificent Obsessions”

Join Judith Sobol, executive director of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, for a lecture on the obsessions of the collector and the artist. Bernie Cantor’s obsession was with forming and shaping a collection, while Rodin’s obsession was with changing the nature of sculpture and achieving wide recognition for his genius.

Friday, September 19 Films at the Frist: Camille Claudel
7 p.m.

Camille Claudel’s enthusiasm impressed already-famous sculptor Auguste Rodin. He hired her as an assistant, but soon Camille began to sculpt for herself and for Rodin. She also becomes his mistress. But after a while, she would like to get out of his shadow. Directed by Bruce Nuytten, 1988, 158 minutes subtitled. Not Rated.

Thursday, September 25 Gallery Talk: Rodin: A Magnificent
7 p.m. Obsession, Sculpture from the Iris
Meet at the Information Desk and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation
Included with gallery admission

Join Mark Scala, chief curator at the Frist Center, for a walk-through tour of Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession, Sculpture from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation. Complete your evening with music in the Grand Lobby, wine at the cash bar and visiting with friends.

Friday, September 26 ARTini
7 p.m.
Meet at Information Desk
Included with gallery admission

Join Anne Taylor, curator of interpretation at the Frist Center, as she leads an informal conversation about one or two works presented in Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession, Sculpture from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation. Compete your evening with music in the Grand Lobby, martinis, wine and other beverages at the cash bar and visiting with friends.

Saturdays in November (Nov. 1, 8, 15, 22) Frist Center Kids Club:
1–2:30 p.m. Reductive Sculpture
Meet in the Upper-Level Foyer
Call 615.744.3357 to reserve a space.

Saturdays in November, Kids Club members will create balsa wood sculptures. Designed for
5-10 year olds, the Frist Center Kids Club offers exciting opportunities for children to discover, explore, and create art. Free membership includes a Kids Club card, rewards for participation, and a variety of hands-on activities in the art studios and the Martin ArtQuest Gallery. Sponsored by Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, the Pruett Financial Group

Sunday, November 9 Family Day
1¬–5:30 p.m.
Free admission

Enjoy a fun-filled day of excitement with friends and family including special art making activities, live music and dance performances. Featuring masterpieces of photography and film from throughout history, check out the unforgettable images in The Best of Photography and Film from The George Eastman House Collection. Visit the upstairs galleries to experience the passion and timeless sculptures in the exhibition Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession, Sculpture from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation.

Saturday, November 22 Adult Sculpture Workshop
10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Frist Center Studios
$50 for members; $60 for non-members
Call 615.744.3247 to register for this workshop.

Instructor Connie Pirtle will teach a workshop in which participants will learn about sculpture casting techniques used by Rodin and sculptors throughout history. Following this, participants will create individual projects cast in pewter.


The Frist Center gratefully acknowledges the support of the Hospitality Sponsor for the exhibition: Union Station Hotel.

Related Exhibition

Rodin was a significant influence on a number of photographers who rose to prominence shortly after the turn of the 20th century, including Edward Steichen (1879–1973) and Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946), both of whom are represented in The Best of Photography and Film from The George Eastman House Collection, an exhibition on view this fall at the Frist Center.

About the Frist Center

Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., is an art exhibition center dedicated to presenting the finest visual art from local, regional, U.S. and international sources in a program of changing exhibitions. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features more than 30 interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Gallery admission to the Frist Center is free for visitors 18 and younger and to Frist Center members. Frist Center admission is $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors and military and $6.50 for college students with ID. Thursday evenings, 5–9 p.m., admission is free for college students with a valid college ID. Discounts are offered for groups of 10 or more with advance reservation by calling 615.744.3246. The Frist Center is open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. and Sundays, 1–5:30 p.m., with the Frist Center Café opening at noon. Additional information is available by calling 615.244.3340 or by visiting our Web site at

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