Tuesday, November 01, 2005
A Fateful Encounter - Claudel and Rodin at the DIA
For our anniversary on Sunday we went to see the Rodin and Claudel show at the DIA. It was an amazing experience.
Prior to the show, I had limited knowledge of Rodin. A casting of his statue “The Thinker” has always been in front of the DIA (see my awesome photo? Thanks again to MM!), but I don’t think I ever closely looked at it. I never realized it was a depiction of Dante from what was originally going to be a larger piece based on the Gates of Hell, even though “The Divine Comedy” is one of my favorite themes in art. I never noticed how much detail was in the face either.
Prior to the show, I had no knowledge of Claudel, and yet now, with these sculptures on display, I think it easy to see she was more talented than Rodin.
It was tragic story, played out over many years. He was an established sculptor and artist who bloomed late in his life. She was a prodigy who came to work in his studio and became one of his most trusted students. They became lovers, but he refused to leave his mistress.
She was 24 years younger than he was, but she always loved him. Even after he began to steal her ideas, as was painfully obvious by the placement of their sculptures side by side, she continued to love him.
Another amazing part of the exhibition was the letters. In addition to the sculptures of these artists, there were tons of their love letters on display. There was a written “contract” from Rodin to Claudel, promising that someday he would leave his mistress and marry her; in return Claudel promised to “receive” Rodin on a predetermined schedule. Rodin never fulfilled his part of that bargain.
Claudel was not exactly the tragic character I may be presenting, either. In the letters, it was obvious she was a strong woman who tormented him as well. As their relationship deteriorated, Claudel in her bitterness lowered herself to sending Rodin obscene caricatures of him and his mistress. These were also on display, and rather humorous, but also obviously drawn by a very talented artist.
After Claudel broke away from Rodin, she enjoyed some success, but she was obviously becoming physically broken from years of carving marble (another thing I learned was that most sculptors at the time hired carvers to do the work; Claudel was an exception) and mentally unhinged as well. She ended up spending the last 30 years of her life in an asylum, placed there by her brother, Paul Claudel, who wanted her out of the public eye because she was an embarrassment.
Rodin ended up finally marrying his mistress, a few weeks before she died. He died a few months later. Their sculptures, letters and photos captured this relationship that was bittersweet and tragic.
If you can, I highly suggest you get to the DIA for this exhibition. It runs until February 5, and is the only US venue for this exhibition. Tickets were $17, but it was totally worth it; after we left, I realized the exhibit was so large it had taken us two hours to get through it, and I didn’t even notice I’d been standing that long.
I also now know that there is little reason to see the Rodin museum in Paris, as a large part of the collection is in this traveling exhibition right now.