It was my birthday yesterday. I am 46 years old and I’m wandering the streets of beautiful Paris with the wide eyed wonder of a child!
I enjoyed an easy morning, did some errands and then headed for the beautiful Musée de Rodin. Up to this point my favourite museum has been the Musée d’Orsay. It’s stunning visually and way less busy than the Louvre.
But today I think I fell in love with Rodin.
I could have wandered this museum and its gardens all day. I’m likely to go back and bask in that energy again. And the gelato was awesome and definitely a draw!
Walking into Auguste Rodin’s space was to walk into the energy of a man who knew what life meant to him and what he meant to life.
This was a man who clearly had an astounding appreciation of the beauty of the human form for both sexes – although his appreciation of the female form probably had a slightly greater edge. Clothing for him, I think, was just a mask to the truth of what lies beneath. It wasn’t just carnal appreciation, although that is definitely there. The body never lies about emotion.
“The human body is first and foremost a mirror to the soul and its greatest beauty comes from that.”
– Auguste Rodin
Rodin appears to reject the classical forms of beauty which caused issues with his followers. He instead found beauty in the imperfections of life. While he used models, many can’t be identified. He strove to find the truth in their bodies, their faces and identifying features were less important than the truth and the emotion he was trying to capture and evoke. Funnily he was so good at this that at one point, he was accused of creating a sculpture by directly molding the model’s body – instead of creating the mold directly himself, which greatly insulted his artistry and dignity. It is a testimony, however to Rodin’s exacting standards of artistry and his brilliance!
I walked into the heavily aromatic rose garden and I came to the base of The Thinker. One thing I noticed with some of his sculptures and The Thinker is one, is that their feet and hands seem to be slightly larger than real life. It actually made me think of Hobbits!
The emotions that The Thinker brings to the table are portrayed through the tension in his whole form and right through to his feet which are clenched and holding onto the earth.
Rodin does not miss a trick in letting us know that the Thinkers thoughts are heavy and binding. Have you ever had a day like that? This fellow is incorporated into The Gates of Hell, as this was the original commission. He’s at the top, staring down at the poor souls who are descending without hope into Hell. I think my toes would grip the earth as well to prevent myself from sliding into where these souls were headed!
The Musée de Rodin has a lot to see and absorb. I caught my breath on two more sculptured pieces. I’d seen The Kiss before, although I’m not sure where, but I recognized it immediately.
It stopped me in my tracks.
Rodin may have been influenced in its creation by a couple of ideas, but regardless of those theories, it’s absolutely stunning. At first glance it’s erotic in nature, but moving around it, there is more to it than just that. Rodin could have portrayed much more than just a kiss if it was meant to be entirely carnal. I’ve seen pictures that Rodin has drawn and he’s clearly not afraid to explore more adventurously in this area.
It’s about hope and promise. The beginning of a future. Or the beginning of…something! The Kiss was originally meant for The Gates of Hell. These two were doomed adulterers based on real characters from the 13th century. Paulo, who mutually fell in love with his sister-in-law Francesca and were much portrayed in 19th century art. Not to mention murdered by the offended husband and brother.
But Rodin pardoned them from the Gates of Hell and chose another pair of lovers for that fate. I admire him for this decision.
I think this was a magnanimous gesture of forgiveness of which we all could use a little more of towards each other and ourselves.
It seems he choose to celebrate love and passion more than the idea that it was perhaps ill-fated. Even though Rodin referred to the work as a mere trinket, I think he was a romantic at heart. His love for women and his opinion that women were something of an equal shines through this work.
The final piece that struck me the most, was near the end of the tour. It’s a sculpture called “Je Suis Belle” or “I am Beautiful”. On the base of the sculpture, it is inscribed in Rodin’s handwriting with the poem “Hymne à la Beauté” (Hymn to Beauty). The sculpture was inspired by this Baudelaire written poem. After seeing the inscription I had to look it up. Thanks to the virtues of Google and a smart phone I was able to do so. There are about twenty translations of the original poem from French into English and four can be found here: fleursdumal.org/poem/116 .
The sculpture, when you first lay eyes on it, feels tortured and awkward. Rodin reassembled together two separate sculptures to create this piece. It makes you wonder why the hell the man would ever hold up a woman in such a manner. He leans back and looks like he could fall. She on the other hand, is originally crouching. Here, she is much exposed but has been turned over to look like she’s in a ball and wrestling to get out of his arms. Or maybe she is holding on for dear life as he can’t possibly hold on with his posture! Either way there is vulnerability, strain and juxtaposition in both characters that captures you and seems fated for a poor ending.
And yet it’s called “I am Beautiful”. Which just further lends to me the idea that Rodin saw beauty where most cannot because of our own ideals that cloud us from truth.
And don’t we all do that? We refuse to see the beauty in ourselves and the world around us because of whatever filter we have within our own minds. Either our culture or tribe mentality clouds our vision and initiates fear and loathing so we only see the ugly. We only attribute “beauty” to a select few things and being human, we pass these filters to our children who then build on the filters with more filters of their own. Maybe even the struggles in life, and within ourselves and between each other could also be beautiful if we choose to see it as such.
“To any artist, worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.”
So this means, that all of our bumps, scars, patina, tragedies, accomplishments, failures, good and bad moments, every emotion, negative or positive, the things we hide and the things we lay bare, are our truth.
And every last damn millimetre of it is beautiful.
Stop and breathe that in. Ponder it. Exhale.
May we all be artists in our own lives.
Did you miss the last blog? Read it here!
Have you seen how “The Princess and The Whale” came to be published? It’s a pretty cool story in itself! Watch it from here!
Don’t have your own copy of “The Princess and The Whale” yet? Check it out here!