This November is the centennial anniversary of the death of Auguste Rodin, one of the most significant and influential sculptors of modern history. In commemoration, Telfair Museums is hosting "Rodin: The Human Experience" at the Jepson Center, an exhibition organized by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, which holds the largest and most comprehensive private collection of works by the artist.
This nationally traveling exhibition includes 32 individual bronze works by Rodin as well as detailed information about his studio practice and the fascinating process for casting official reproductions of his work. There will also be two music-related events exploring the connection between the sculptor and Beethoven, whom Rodin referred to as "the first Romantic."
The first event on Sept. 25 will be a lunch and lecture by musicologist Olivia Mattis that investigates the inspiration Rodin derived from Beethoven's music. The second event on Oct. 19 will be a performance at the Telfair Academy by Quynh Shannon, a Savannah Philharmonic guest artist and music instructor at Savannah State University making her solo piano debut. Shannon will perform selections by Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and Mussorgsky with an "elegant dinner" afterward at the Jepson Center.
"We are joining museums around the world in commemorating this anniversary," says Telfair's chief curator of collections and exhibitions, Courtney McNeil. "Rodin is such an interesting figure because his art education was very traditional and he came of age at a time where the old 19th century structures of the art world were very firmly in place.
"He revolutionized the look of sculpture in the early 20th century and really served as a bridge between the traditional academic world and modern art in that his works were really expressive and sometimes deliberately unfinished. Sometimes he was exhibiting fragments of the human body as complete works in and of themselves."
"Rodin: The Human Experience" will include many different examples of Rodin's work, from large-sized sculptures, to various busts and tableaux, to a series of studies and experiments with marcottage, the use of broken sculptural fragments in new works that he pioneered.
McNeil also points out that the painter and fine arts adviser to Telfair Museums, Gari Melchers, was attempting to acquire a work by Rodin for Telfair's own collection just before the sculptor died in 1917. Melchers had been corresponding with Rodin, attempting to negotiate the purchase of a figure from one of his most famous works, "The Burghers of Calais." Rodin had been intrigued and very open to the idea, but he passed away before the deal could materialize.
"So this is also the 100th anniversary of us not acquiring a Rodin," jokes McNeil.
Almost equally interesting as the works themselves is the process by which they were cast and reproduced. This process, called cire-perdue, or the lost-wax casting process, will be detailed in the exhibition as well. What many may not realize is that Rodin was a tireless self-promoter and he encouraged as many reproductions of his work as possible. For example, between 1898 and 1918, one of the main foundries Rodin worked with produced 231 bronze casts of "The Eternal Spring" and 319 of "The Kiss" in four different sizes.
"Rodin's primary objective was to get his work in front of as many people as possible," says McNeil. "To do that he was known to authorize many, many casts of his works during his lifetime. The idea of limited-edition casting was instituted by the Rodin Museum after his death when Rodin's will gave them the authority to continue to cast his works."
To demonstrate how the process worked, the museum is including a number of explanatory text panels and video to illustrate the techniques that were used by foundries to achieve the miraculous results. "Rodin: The Human Experience' will be on view through Jan. 7.
IF YOU GO
What: "Rodin: The Human Experience"
When: Sept. 1-Jan. 7
Where: Jepson Center, 207 W. York St.
Cost: Free for museum members; general admission applies for non-members
What: "Rodin: Inspired by Beethoven" lecture, luncheon
When: 10:30 a.m. Sept. 25
Where: Lecture at Trinity United Methodist Church, followed by lunch at the Jepson Center
Who: Former Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation fellow and musicologist Olivia Mattis will explore the inspiration Rodin derived from the music of Beethoven.
What: ArtStart: "Rodin: The Human Experience"
When/where: 10:30 a.m. Oct. 19, Jepson Center
Why: For young patrons, story time, special tour and art activity. Strollers,crying babies and older siblings welcome.
Cost: $5 per child, adult members free, adult non-members $12
What: Free Family Day: Rodin
When/where: 1-4 p.m. Nov. 11, Jepson Center
Why: Local sculptors will give demonstrations and talk about the process of making sculptures in bronze, wood and other media
Cost: Free and open to the public