At first glance, you wouldn’t think that Henry Moore’s smooth-as-polished stone sculpture and the broken surfaces of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture would go together. But come March 29, their art will stand side by side in a special exhibit at the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire, and Moore would have welcomed the pairing. After all, both artists sculpted the human figure seeking inner spirit rather than outward appearance.
One of Moore’s favorite works by Rodin was “Walking Man.” As he has said, “Walking Man has everything that I love about Rodin, especially his wonderful sense of the human figure.”
Moore also called Rodin’s “Monument to the Burghers of Calais,” sited outside the London’s House of Parliament, the best public sculpture in the city. http://www.examiner.com/article/public-art-where-s-the-rest-of-us Rodin based the work on history, when England’s Edward III laid siege to the French town of Calais. When the people refused to surrender Edward offered to spare the town if six of its leaders would surrender to him. Six did and Rodin sought to capture their heroism.
Rodin was so taken with the human condition and man’s struggles that the people he depicted seemed hardly able to move without expressing it. He made a career of portraying pathos through the body. Tensed muscles are everywhere. And if they look about to walk, you imagine it would be toward their doom.
"Look!" Rodin said to his friend Paul Gsell, "I have accented the swelling of the muscles which express distress. Here, here, there - I have exaggerated the straining of the tendons which indicate the outburst of prayer…I accentuate the lines which best express the spiritual state that I interpret.”
Despite his belief in distortion for the sake of expression, Rodin extolled the virtues of the classical work Venus de Medici: “Is it not marvelous? Confess that you did not expect to discover so much detail. Just look at the numberless undulations of the hollow that unites the body and the thigh…Notice all the voluptuous curving of the hip…and now, head, the adorable dimples along the loins…It is truly flesh…You would think it modeled by caresses! You almost expect, when you touch this body, to find it warm.”
He could have been talking about Moore’s work.
Moore created hollows in his figures. In “Reclining Figure” 1930, the voids are like womb-like fertility symbols. By making the hollows meaningful, Moore was able to suggest life in an inert, inanimate material. To him, the hollows or voids are as natural as those in a tree trunk or eddying water.
In his “Internal and External Forms,” which shows a large and curving open form with a smaller one set within it, you see what could be taken as a mother and child in the abstract. Even Moore’s most abstract sculpture, “Locking-Piece” – made of massive non-objective shapes that fit together - bears the air of a great monument.
Sounding like Moore, Rodin said, “Sculpture is the art of the hole and the lump.” This Moore-Rodin show will surely add to the appreciation of both artists.