AUGUSTE RODIN: DRAWINGS AND WATERCOLORS
"Drawing," Rodin told Judith Cladel in 1914, "is the key to knowledge." (quoted in J.T. Varnedoe, 'Rodin as a Draftsman--A Chronological Perspective: The Drawings of Rodin, exh. cat., The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1971, p. 25). Kirk T. Varnedoe states that, "for all Rodin's creative life, drawing was a sister process to thought; he believed that only continual drawing could train the perceptive abilities and provide the knowledge essential to development" (ibid.). Drawing was his means of discovering "truth" in life and in art: "good" drawing represented truth and simplicity in nature; 'bad" drawing was self-conscious, mannered in its representation, and often displayed an ignorance of nature or inexact observation with attempts to mask it with artifice.
Rodin published and exhibited very few of his drawings prior to 1897. Furthermore, drawings that relate to Rodin's own sculptures are extremely rare; most drawings related to sculptures are records of them after the fact, as opposed to preparatory studies. His earliest drawings were studies from classical sculpture, particularly those of Michelangelo, which he produced in order to understand the artists' conceptions of form. Rodin drew directly from models almost exclusively after 1890. According to Albert Elsen, "Drawing and modeling [his sculpture] were distinct yet mutually supportive and cross-fertilizing in his art. Seeing and feeling the model's profiles through the point of this pencil and hands gave conviction to his fingering of the clay and draftsmanship. Drawing made the body's contours instinctive for the sculptor; modeling taught the draftsman what was essential." ('Rodin's Drawings and the Mastery of Abundance,' exh. cat., ibid., p. 19). With few exceptions, Rodin sought to record the spontaneous movements of his models, and how men and women express themselves through the dynamic language of their bodies. By this time he drew with a continuous line, his pencil never leaving the paper and his eye never leaving the model, in order to make a purely spontaneous record of the "mystery" he perceived in the body an its movement -a technique that would provide a compelling example to Henri Matisse and Egon Schiele in their mature drawings. Furthermore, if Rodin preferred the pose as seen from a different view than it was drawn, he would indicate that by the orientation of the signature or title on the page. He did not avoid the erotic in his work, and consciously avoided conventional mannerisms that would obscure the genitalia and alter the poses of his models to make the images less revealing. Every position of the human body held his interest and, with no intention of seeming prurient; it simply went against his nature to edit the living forms of the body as he saw it.
After 1900, Rodin added watercolor to his drawings, as a means to flesh out the contours of his figures and make mass more palpable. These works possess an assured elegance, with the simultaneous duality of the simple, flat pencil contours and the volumes of the figures rendered in depth
The popularity of Rodin's drawings in the early 20th century was so great that copyists abounded. Indeed, many more forgeries are in existence than authentic drawings by the master's hand. Yet Rodin's drawings and watercolors will always be distinguished "by virtue of his greater understanding and command of balance --they 'carry,' and the figure holds its place within the field of the drawing. A thorough comprehension of the body's internal structure, its reflexive self-balancing in the response to gravity during the most strenuous movement, and the points that carry the weight always inform Rodin's drawings. Even when he inverted a finished drawing to give us a flying figure, we can read the original pose and the body's response to gravity" (ibid., p. 23).
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