The Comité Auguste Rodin under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay will include this work in their forthcoming Rodin Catalogue critique de l’oeuvre sculpté under the number 2013-4218B.
Condensing into one, simple gesture a sense of gravity and tragic fate, Eve is one of Rodin’s most celebrated sculptures. Evoking the solemnity of the Biblical episode of the fall of man, in Eve Rodin has sculpted a figure whose body is fixed in a moment of irreversible downfall: standing in front of the viewer is not Eve the temptress, but rather Eve the penitent, suffocated by shame and crushed by her guilt. Noticing the expressive power of Eve's pose, Rainer Maria Rilke observed: ‘[she] seems to be enfolded in her arms, with hands turned outwards as if to push away everything, even her own changing body’ (quoted in A. Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Paris, 2007, vol. 1, p. 345). The idea for Eve had originated around 1881, at the time of Rodin’s work on the Porte de l’Enfer. At first, the sculptor had thought to include the figures of Adam and Eve at either side of the gate, as the symbolic gatekeepers of man’s perdition. Although left unfinished and not included in the final composition of the Porte de l’Enfer, Eve became a work in its own right, finding great success through a series of subsequent casts and smaller marble versions.
The reason for which Rodin was forced to abandon his work on the large, original model for Eve had to do with the particular and fortuitous circumstances in which the sculpture came into being. Recalling his experience while creating the figure in clay from the model, Rodin would explain: ‘Without knowing why, I saw my model changing. I modified my contours, naïvely following the successive transformations of ever-amplifying forms. One day I learnt that she was pregnant; then I understood. The contours of the belly had hardly changed, but you can see the sincerity with which I copied nature by looking at the muscles of the loins and the sides… it certainly hadn’t occurred to me to take a pregnant woman as a model for Eve; an accident – fortunate for me – gave her to me, and singularly helped with the character of the figure’ (quoted in A. Le Normand-Romain, op. cit., p. 345). The model’s condition, however, also meant that soon afterwards she found the studio too cold to pose and stopped modeling, forcing Rodin to leave Eve unfinished. Once again Rodin embraced a trick played by chance: although he re-worked the sculpture in subsequent smaller bronze casts and marble versions, he still found the unpolished original model ‘more vigorous in expression’ in its unfinished state (A. Le Normand-Romain, op. cit., p. 348).
Rodin’s words on the quality of that original model reveal the artistic intension that had guided his conception of the work: with Eve, the sculptor was searching for force of emotion. In the pose of the figure, there is a hint of Michelangelo, the master Rodin truly worshipped. Painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s Eve also shudders in shame, her arms crossed in front of her. A self-taught sculptor, Rodin had discovered the power of Michelangelo in 1876, during his first trip to Italy. Recalling that first moment of epiphany, Rodin would say: ‘When I myself went to Italy, my brain full of Greek models that I had passionately studied at the Louvre, I was greatly disconcerted by the Michelangelos. They were always refuting the truths I thought I’d permanently learnt!’ (quoted in R. Masson, V. Mattiussi, Rodin, Paris, 2004, p. 151). The unconventional drive of Michelangelo resonated strongly with Rodin’s own ‘outcast’ artistic career: having failed the admission exam at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts three times, the artist had begun his career outside of the official, academic circle. His talent and daring inventions, however, did not fail to be recognised and celebrated by the art establishment during his lifetime. In 1899, Rodin resolved to exhibit a bronze cast of the original model for Eve at the official Paris Salon. The Gazette des Beaux-Arts reviewer wrote in awe: ‘Mr. Rodin’s Eve is one of the most magnificently invented statues that I know… One cannot imagine a more expressive and powerful silhouette. The inner construction has a force that no other sculptor, in this day and age, has mastered to such a degree’ (quoted in A. Le Normand-Romain, op. cit., p. 347).