The public are weary of statues that say nothing. Well, here is a man coming forward whose statues live and speak, and speak things worth uttering. —Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886
At the beginning of the 20th century, Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) was the most famous artist in the world. On the centenary of his death, the Art Institute joins museums around the world in celebrating the renowned artist’s life and work. Presenting rarely seen sculptures and drawings from private collections, as well as from the museum’s rich holdings, this exhibition is the first devoted to the sculptor at the Art Institute since 1923. Featuring works with exceptional histories, including sculptures produced as gifts for people close to the artist and drawings once owned by the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, the exhibition explores Rodin’s incomparable ability to bring bronze and stone to life.
Rodin was a master of visual communication. His powerfully expressive sculpted bodies speak to us directly through cleverly constructed gestures and poses and in the carefully rendered surfaces of his bronzes and marbles. Continually metamorphosing and reincarnating his figures through reassembly, fragmentation, and new contexts of display, he transformed, sometimes significantly, the stories they portrayed. Rodin’s extraordinary ability to use the human body to generate meaning is underlined in the exhibition by such famous works as The Hand of God, Eternal Springtime, The Prodigal Son, and Adam. Viewers also have the rare opportunity to see, side by side, two early marble representations of the biblical Eve: one from the Art Institute and one from a private collection.
In addition to these stellar objects, the exhibition displays photographs, drawings, prints, and sculptures by the artist’s friends and contemporaries, such as Claude Monet and Henri Matisse. Lifelong friends, Rodin and Monet exchanged gifts of art, corresponded regularly, and even held a joint exhibition in 1889 at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. Early in his career, Matisse engaged with the work of Rodin, and his Serf is deeply indebted to the older master’s Walking Man. These two exceptional pieces, both from the Art Institute’s collection, are displayed together here for the first time.