This work will be included in the forthcoming Auguste Rodin catalogue critique de l'oeuvre sculpté currently being prepared by the Comité Rodin at Galerie Brame et Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay under the archive number 1999-1809B.
Rodin initially conceived Eve to accompany the figure of Adam as a pair of flanking sculptures for the Gates of Hell. Eve marks one of the great turning points in modern sculpture. Its rough and freely worked surface was more like that found on a wax or plaster model than on a traditionally finished bronze for the official Salon. This new manner of working was a major departure for Rodin. With it he announced his divergence from conventional academic practice, and it opened the way to the more expressive conception of surface texture and material finish that is characteristic of his later sculpture. Many early twentieth-century sculptors followed his example, and this approach became a defining quality in modernist sculpture.
This cast of Eve is especially noteworthy. It was originally in the distinguished collection of Auguste Pellerin (1852-1929), who was friend and patron to Manet, Renoir, Cézanne and Rodin. This cast bears the distinction of being François Rudier's première épreuve of the work. It is moreover of special interest because the history of this cast is closely bound up with the Balzac scandal of 1898, the so-called "L'incident Rodin."
The figure of Eve exemplifies Rodin's mastery as a narrative artist. Slackening her upright posture, Eve appears to turn in upon herself as if to protect a newly vulnerable body, revealing her sin and fall from grace. She expresses intensely wrought emotion in her every muscle and sinew, in the tight folding of her arms as they shield her naked flesh, in the tension of her neck, and in the locking of her thighs. Eve is on one hand an image of voluptuousness and shame, yet she appears frozen in an attitude of penitential renunciation and profound remorse. Rainer Maria Rilke, the German poet who served as Rodin's secretary in 1905-1906, visited Pellerin's home in Neuilly to study his collection. He wrote:
"Eve...stands with head sunk deeply into the shadow of the arms that draw together over the breast like those of a freezing woman. The back is rounded, the nape of the neck almost horizontal. She bends forward as though listening over her own being in which a
new future begins to stir. And it is as though the gravity of this future weighed upon the senses of the woman and drew her down from the freedom of life into the deep humble service of motherhood" (R.M. Rilke, Rodin, trans. Jessie Lemont and Hans Transil, London, 1946).
The theme of Eve after the Fall held great appeal in the nineteenth century. A staple subject of academic and religious painting, the character of Eve was given new life by Gauguin and the Symbolists in the late 1880s and 1890s. Indeed, Rodin's sympathetic interpretation of the figure, with its poignant sense of withdrawal and self-abnegation, looks forward to later developments in French art of the twentieth century, from the brooding beggars of Picasso's Blue Period to the sculpture of Henri Matisse (fig.1) and Constantin Brancusi (fig.2); each of these artists reinterpreted the striking gesture of Eve's folded arms in their own early works. One possible precedent for the figural disposition that Rodin has associated here with Eve is Houdon's La Frileuse (L'Hiver) of 1783 (fig. 3). The gesture of Eve's shame has a long history in art that begins with the Venus Pudica type in classical art and extends to Masaccio's Expulsion of Adam and Eve in the Brancacci Chapel. Paul Dubois, a contemporary of Rodin, exhibited his Newborn Eve in 1873 (Musée du Petit-Palais, Paris).
Rodin evolved an organic conception of form in which surface articulation grew out of an inner expressive force. This is plainly evident in Eve. "Instead of imagining the different parts of a body as surfaces more or less flat," Rodin explained of his sculpture, "I represented them as projectures [projections] of interior volumes. I forced myself to express in each swelling of the torso or of the limbs the efflorescence of a muscle or of a bone which lay deep beneath the skin. And so the truth of my figures, instead of being merely superficial, seems to blossom forth from within to the outside, like life itself..." (quoted in L.Nochlin, ed., Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, 1874-1904. Sources and Documents, Englewood Cliffs, 1966, pp. 72-73).
Rodin's naturalism reaches far beyond factual matters of anatomical accuracy to express the power of a life force that is revealed in the summarily rough, pitted, or exaggerated surfaces of his sculptures, especially those works he had cast in bronze. Speaking of his great Balzac, Rodin explained: "I tried...to render in sculpture what was not photographic... My principle is to imitate not only form but life. I search in nature for this life and I amplify it by exaggerating the holes and lumps in order to gain more light, after which I search for a synthesis of the whole" (quoted in R. Butler, ed., Rodin in Perspective, Englewood Cliffs, 1980, p. 94). The renowned German art historian Julius Meier-Graefe concurred: "[Rodin's] art, like every other--nay, more than any other--impresses by means of exaggeration, and the older he grows the more clearly he recognises this truth" (quoted in ibid., p. 133).
So acutely developed was Rodin's attention to the surface of his sculptures that he began to model sculptural form in relation to the play of light and shadow, and in this process he willfully abandoned the bel idéal of academic tradition in favor of a new freedom of expressive distortion. Rilke astutely observed:
"When Rodin concentrates the surfaces of his works into culminating points, when he uplifts to greater height the exalted or more depth to a cavity, he creates an effect like that which atmosphere produces on monuments that have been exposed to it for centuries. The atmosphere has traced deeper lines upon these monuments, has shadowed them with veils of dust, has seasoned them with rain and frost, with sun and storm, and has thus endowed them with endurance so that they may remain imperishable through many slowly passing dusks and dawns" (op. cit.).
Photography, in fact, aided Rodin in realizing his revolutionary aims. Although the sculptor is not known to have taken pictures himself, he employed numerous photographers who documented his works at varying stages of execution and sold prints of completed works from which Rodin derived royalties. More importantly, Rodin used photographs to reveal significant formal relationships that he had worked into certain sculptures, as two gelatin silver prints by Druet of Eve in Rodin's studio attest. In one (fig. 4), the dramatic lighting silhouettes the figure and emphasizes the continuous contour of her back, head, right arm and leg. Indeed, this articulation of the figure in relation to a linear arabesque would prove to have a profound influence on Henri Matisse's development of sculptural form in the early years of the twentieth century. In the second photograph by Druet, the swollen mass of Eve's back is emphasized, corresponding to Rilke's description of the ways in which Rodin conceived his sculpture in relation to "culminating points" of mass and cavities. In other cases, photographs served Rodin as aide-mémoires, they became the basis for transfer drawings, or functioned as interpretative studies for the correction and alteration of individual works. In some cases Rodin even employed pen and ink in retouching the surface of a photograph to underscore the effect of shadows of in a figure's appearance. He would also use photographs to record the various dispositions and attitudes of single sculptures or of a large sculptural ensemble like the Gates of Hell.
Rodin's interpretation of Eve was, in fact, intimately connected with his work on the Gates. In 1880 Rodin received the prestigious commission to execute the entrance portal for a new Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Shortly thereafter, Rodin submitted an independent figure of Adam, which he began that same year but had conceived prior to receiving the commission for the Gates. He exhibited this expressive Michelangelesque sculpture under the title The Creation at the 1881 Salon. Inspired by Michelangelo's Adam from The Creation of Man fresco in the Sistine Chapel, Rodin also conceived a pendant figure, Eve, which he produced as a plaster. At an early stage in his work on the Gates, Rodin considered installing the figures of Adam and Eve on either side of the Gates, like door jambs flanking the portal of a Gothic cathedral. Rodin petitioned the Salon to remove the figure of Adam and to have it returned to his studio on the rue de l'Université so he could continue working on his revised conception of the Gates. At the same time, he sought to have the figures of Adam and Eve officially commissioned for the sculptural ensemble, thereby expanding the symbolic cosmology in the Gates to include scenes from Dante's Inferno and the Fall of Man. Although Rodin was unsuccessful in securing this additional commission, he repeated the figure of Adam three times in the figures of the Three Shades who preside over the Gates. Although Rodin executed the figure of Eve in various marble versions, he did not publicly exhibit a bronze cast until the Salon of 1899, at which time Rodin took the extraordinary measure, for naturalistic effect, of having its base buried in sand.
It is not entirely clear if Rodin produced the life-sized plaster for Eve in 1880-1881, or if he abandoned it and returned to complete it at some later date. According to Ruth Butler (op. cit.) the model for Eve was an Italian girl named Adèle Abruzzezzi, who also posed for Torso of Adèle, Fallen Caryatid Carrying Her Stone, and Crouching Woman. Rodin's reaction to his model in the process of sculpting Eve is illuminating: "Without knowing why," Rodin writes, "I saw my model changing. I modified my contours, naively following the successive transformations of ever-amplifying forms. One day, I learned that she was pregnant; then I understood... It certainly hadn't occurred to me to take a pregnant woman as my model for Eve; an accident--happy for me--gave her to me, and it aided the character of the figure singularly. But soon, becoming more sensitive, my model found the studio too cold; she came less frequently, then not at all" (quoted in P. Fusco and H.W. Janson, The Romantics to Rodin: French Nineteenth-Century Sculpture from North American Collections, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1980, p. 336). On the basis of this commentary, Butler raises the possibility that Rodin suspended work on the sculpture in 1880-1881, bolstering her argument with the observation that the agitated surface articulation apparent in the figure is consistent with Rodin's style in the 1890s. It has been recently pointed out that Mme Abruzzezzi was born in 1874 and would have been too young to model for Eve in the early 1880s. The model then was actually another Italian girl, Carmen Visconti. It appears likely that Rodin did leave off work on Eve, and returned to it in the mid-1890s, this time with Mme Abruzzezzi as his model; she is known to have been pregnant in 1895.
This magnificent bronze cast of Eve from the Pellerin Collection was executed by François Rudier in 1897 and numbered "PREMIERE EPREUVE." Pellerin seems to have acquired the bronze in early 1898, and certainly before 16 May of that year, when the artist visited him at his home in Neuilly. In an article in La Paix, dated 18 May 1898, it was reported:
"Auguste Pellerin, having recently purchased from the master a bronze, a little larger than life, called "Eve," desired to show the master the piece erected on a pedestal next to a pond in the middle of his estate. The bronze...in M. Pellerin's park makes an admirable effect. M. Rodin praised M. Pellerin for the taste with which he installed the "Eve."
The principal reason for Rodin's visit to Neuilly, however, was to discuss the purchase of the Balzac (fig. 5), which had been scandalously rejected the week before by its original patron, the Comité of the Société des Gens des Lettres. The Comité
released a terse and hostile statement condemning Rodin's work as an "ébauche...dans laquelle il se refuse à reconnaître la statute de Balzac." Auguste Pellerin immediately came to Rodin's defense. He wrote an open letter to Rodin, dated 11 May 1898, offering to buy the statue as a great work of art; the letter was widely published in the newspapers of France. It reads as follows:
"Monsieur Rodin, Paris,
The Committee of the Society of Letters as a sign of protest against, what they call, your rough sketch, refuses to acknowledge the statue of Balzac.
My judgement is very different from the committee's and I would like to ask if you would sell me the statue of Balzac.
It would be in good company at my home with L'artiste de Manet a painting which was refused by the salon in 1876.
With warm regards,
At their meeting at Neuilly on 16 May, Pellerin agreed to purchase the Balzac for 20,000 francs. However, a group of Rodin's friends had already created a subscription to buy the work, and so Pellerin agreed to give up the statue if the subscribers came up with the 25,000 francs necessary to buy it and erect it in some public place. This series of events was reported by newspapers throughout the world. For example, The Globe in London reported on 19 May that "The sculptor has finally sold it [the Balzac] to M. Auguste Pellerin, the well-known collector, for twenty thousand francs. It will be placed on one of the lawns of M. Pellerin's park at Neuilly. Should the committee which has just been formed collect sufficient funds to purchase it, it will be transferred to it [the committee] by the present owner [Pellerin], and erected on some public square."
In the end, however, Rodin decided not to sell Balzac to either Pellerin or the committee, fearing the politicization of his work. Pellerin acquired the present cast ofEve instead, and installed it in the place on his lawn (fig. 6) where he had intended to show Balzac.
(fig. 1) Henri Matisse, Madeline I, Conceived in 1901. BARCODE 20625306
(fig. 2) Constantin Brancusi, The Prayer, 1907. BARCODE 20625290
(fig. 3) Jean-Antoine Houdon, La Frileuse (L'Hiver), 1787. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. BARCODE 20625283
(fig. 4) Photograph of the present cast of Eve in Auguste Rodin's studio, circa 1897. BARCODE 25012514
(fig. 5) Photograph of Balzac in Auguste Rodin's studio, circa 1897. BARCODE 25012521
(fig. 6) The home of Auguste Pellerin in Neuilly. The present cast of Eve is visible atop a plinth on the lawn at lower right. BARCODE 25012538