On Friday, February 4, the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia reopens with a new installation that focuses on the expressive sculptures of the hands of Auguste Rodin. The targeted set brings together around fifteen bronzes and plaster casts, including rare or unique works in the museum’s collection, some of which are recognizable as studies of hands that enliven its large and renowned public monuments. This is the first reinstallation at the Rodin Museum in three years and opens a window on the artist’s creative practice.
Jennifer Thompson, Gloria and Jack Drosdick Curator of European Painting and Sculpture and Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection and the Rodin Museum, said: “Rodin’s hand sculptures offer useful ways to understand his practice and the how he used that part of the body. convey emotions and tell stories. The works presented in the central gallery invite us to consider how the artist’s sculptures of hands – whether part of a larger whole or isolated – evoke movement, sensation and a powerful emotion.
For the French artist and sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), rendering realistic details of the human hand was as revealing as recording a dramatic expression on a figure’s face. Highlights of the new facility include Cathedral (modeled in 1908, cast in bronze in 1925) which depicts two right hands with intertwined fingertips. A little larger and installed nearby, The secret (modeled in clay in 1910 and cast in bronze in 1925) is a striking companion piece for cathedral in which an unidentified object separates two palms and the fingertips are close enough to touch but not meet. Unique to the Rodin Museum, the bronze of Two hands (modeled in clay 1904, cast in bronze 1925). The plaster model of this work is kept at the Musée Rodin in Paris and bears the inscription: “Hands of Rodin and Rose Beuret”, suggesting that the joined hands are those of the artist and his longtime companion, who became his woman very late in life. .
The installation expands on the idea that Rodin repurposed, repurposed and repurposed hands in his oeuvre, as evidenced by his monumental bronzes such as The Burghers of Calais, a group of figures that can be seen in the garden to the east of the Rodin Museum. In God’s hand (modeled 1898, cast in bronze 1925), a hand emerges from a solid form to cradle a rock from which rise male and female figures. With its open palm and outstretched index finger, it is identical to a right hand that appears twice in The Burghers of Calais: once on the figure of Pierre de Wissant, who brings it to his face in a gesture of offering, and again on Pierre’s brother, Jacques de Wissant, who conveys doubt in an exceptionally poignant gesture.
The clenched hand (modeled 1885, cast in bronze 1925) and The left hand (modeled in clay circa 1885, cast in bronze in 1925), offer further meditation on the hands that evoke such drama in Burgers. Many believe that Rodin conceived these two works as studies for the Bourgeois, but finally decided that they seemed too animated to be used for solemn work. Notably, scientists from Stanford University have proposed that the person who modeled for The clenched hand must have suffered from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a nerve disorder that causes muscle twitching. Rodin is known to have studied medical specimens at the Dupuytren Museum in Paris, named after the anatomist and surgeon Guillaume Dupuytren (French, 1777-1835) who is best known today for his description of Dupuytren’s contracture, a form of rheumatoid arthritis that attacks the hands.
Rodin’s hand holding a torso (cast in plaster, 1917), occupies a prominent place in the new installation. Shortly before Rodin’s death in November 1917, his assistant Paul Cruet made a life cast of the artist’s right hand and placed in it a miniature female torso of Rodin, one of many plaster fragments in the collection. Parisian workshop of Rodin.
The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia provides a unique context for this deeply emotional and purposeful installation. In the surrounding galleries, visitors can also discover or rediscover some of Rodin’s most beloved works, including eternal spring (modeled in clay 1884; cast in plaster and painted white 1885)The squatting woman (modeled in clay 1881–82, enlarged 1906–8; cast in bronze 1925), and works depicting such literary luminaries as Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo. Outside, as they approach the museum, they will come across many other familiar works, including The Thinker (1880–1) which overlooks Benjamin Franklin Drive, The three shades (modeled in clay 1881–86, enlarged 1901–4, cast in bronze 1983), and the monumental gates of hell (modeled in clay 1880–1917, cast in bronze 1926–28) on the portico by the entrances of the building.