The Courtauld Gallery is presenting Rodin & Dance: The Essence of Movement, the first major exhibition in the UK to explore Auguste Rodin’s fascination with dance and bodies captured in extreme acrobatic poses. This exhibition focuses on the remarkable series of small-scale experimental sculptures known as the Mouvement de danse (Dance Movements), which were unknown outside of the artist’s close circle. Rodin was inspired by the radical new forms of dance taking France by storm in the early 1900s and sketched a number of famous dancers in his studio, including Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller and Ruth St. Denis. The resulting works provide a fascinating insight into an obsession that inspired Rodin’s later life and explores a relatively unknown side of the artist. The show explores the series of beautiful sketches that he made of the dancers and models that inspired him, alongside the experimental sculptures that he produced as a result. The leaping, twisting figures created appear to push the very boundaries of anatomy.
By 1900, Rodin (1840-1917) was considered France’s greatest living artist. He spent a great part of his later years producing bronzes and marbles of his most famous works for commissions around the world. However, from the mid-1890s his practice also took a more intimate turn, developing his long-term passion for capturing expressive movement. Unlike anything else in Rodin’s creative output, these sculptures are a modern response to the new forms of dance that had taken Paris by storm.
This in-depth scholarly exhibition of Rodin’s Dance Movements is the first time such a comprehensive selection of the works has been shown. The exhibition explores the encounters in Rodin’s life that provided the inspiration for the studies, from the visiting troupes of Javanese and Cambodian dancers that enthralled France with entirely unknown traditions of movement and gesture, to the many performers and entertainers who posed for him in the privacy of his studio. Among the photographs included in the exhibition are those of the dancers Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan, stars of the early 20th century, along with drawings of the Japanese performer Hanako, who stunned audiences in Paris and London with her anguished performances of Japanese ritual suicide, or Hari-kiri. New research has confirmed that the direct inspiration for the Dance Movements was an acrobatic dancer and artists’ model called Alda Moreno. A great many drawings of Moreno by Rodin are known, firmly establishing a chronology for the series and a direct link to many of the works on view.
Rodin transformed his studies of Moreno and other acrobatic models of the early 1900s into a series of leaping and twisting terracotta and plaster figurines. Focusing on his interest in capturing the human form in motion, these works appear to push beyond the constraints of anatomy into a realm of pure artistic experiment and creativity. Many of the final works do not have an obvious orientation and the careful placement of each piece in the exhibition allows the visitor to consider the individual dancers from several different viewpoints. While many of the drawings of dancers were exhibited during Rodin’s lifetime, the sculptures were seen only by his very closest circle of friends and supporters . They may now be considered his last major project, reflecting how the final years of his life were a period of continued experimentation.
New technical analysis undertaken by researchers and curators at the Courtauld Gallery and the Musée Rodin challenges established ideas about Rodin’s late methods. He cast a set of identical torsos, limbs, and heads in clay, which he then assembled and shaped while wet into their exaggerated acrobatic feats of athleticism. Nine of the moulds used by Rodin to make the Dance Movements will be on display, illustrating his highly experimental process of casting multiples and re-combining these pieces in different configurations to make new works of art.
Rodin was preoccupied in his later years with the challenges of expressing and incorporating movement in sculptural form, attempting to create a new type of artwork in response to the emerging dance movements he admired.
The exhibition examines how integrally connected his practice of drawing and sculpture were in this later period, each informing the other.
Rodin & Dance: The Essence of Movement at The Courtauld Gallery will present over 40 drawings and 23 sculptures alongside contextual photographs and archives. It reveals a new side to Rodin’s art, exploring the ways in which he pushed the boundaries of modern sculpture and sought to capture the very essence of movement and physical expression.
Rodin & Dance: The Essence of Movement The Courtauld Gallery, 20 October 2016 – 22 January 2017Organised in collaboration with the Musée Rodin, Paris.