thu 20/06/2024

Moore Rodin, Henry Moore Foundation | reviews, news & interviews

Moore Rodin, Henry Moore Foundation

Moore Rodin, Henry Moore Foundation

A deeply affecting dialogue between two giants of modernist sculpture

Rodin's 'Monument to the Burghers of Calais' with Moore's 'Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae'Mike Bruce by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation/The Royal Parks

Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais have decamped from their usual perch next to the House of Lords to cosy up to the work of Henry Moore. They can be found at Moore’s home and studio at Perry Green in Hertfordshire, in a tellingly succinct anthology of the towering giants of modern European sculpture.

At first glance Rodin’s extraordinary evocations of energy and sensuality, literally embodied in the models he studied so intensively, and Moore’s semi-abstracted helmet heads and upright motives, don’t have much in common. But the compare-and-contrast thrust of this wide-ranging compilation, also taking in drawings, maquettes, miniatures and art that the artists themselves collected, throws unexpected light on both.

Here is Henry Moore in his own words: “The sculpture which moves me most is full-blooded and self-supporting. It is static and it is strong and vital, giving out something of the energy and power of great mountains. It has a life of its own, independent of the object it represents.” These phrases could just as easily be a thought for the day from Rodin, who was intensely admired in England and returned the compliment, making gifts of his art to the UK. Moore not only admired Rodin, he owned several seminal pieces, and photographed Rodin’s Walking Man.

Rodin was in a sense Moore’s predecessor. Both artists used traditional methodology, were expert draughtsmen, based their work on the observation of the real world. They were also ardent art collectors, with a profound interest not only in 19th century western art but in ethnographic material. Moore is the most widely distributed sculptor in the history of art, with public work on view in nearly 40 countries, while Rodin’s work is in at least 70 museums. And the work of both of course was controversial, and even perhaps more surprisingly patriotic.

One of this exhibition’s triumphs is the ability to get up close to the Rodins, in particular to The Burghers of Calais (main image). Brilliantly cleaned and restored several years ago, this dramatic evocation of civic sacrifice is usually on a higher plinth. Closer inspection reveals Rodin’s uncanny sense of anatomy, muscle tension and balance. 

Whatever his subject - Walking Man, Jean d'Aire (pictured above with Moore's The Arch in the background), the Fallen Caryatid and Cybele (pictured left) - Rodin vividly conveys a sense of movement, of change and metamorphosis. We feel his people, mythological and legendary as they are, have a life away from the pedestal, off which they might just walk. However monumental, these pieces seem startlingly present on a human level. 

For all his public work, Moore is a much more interior artist, and although backed to success by the British Council and honoured by the state, he was not a state artist - a difference perhaps in French and British cultures. The humanity of Rodin underlines the ways in which Moore’s sculptures – his reclining figures, his Arch like a piece of blown-up bone from some imagined creature, his Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae - are taken as much from flints, fossils, geological remnants, landscape, and skeletal form, austerely abstracted yet underlined with a striking and passionate affinity for his surroundings. These are monuments of another kind, underpinned by a very personal experience of both world wars. Perhaps most moving, even affecting, is the way the high emotion of Rodin, the obsession with the human - and we know in his personal life he was all too human - brings out the emotion in Moore. These artists are not remotely detached from life: however high-minded, they are down there in the thick of it.

We feel his people, mythological and legendary as they are, have a life away from the pedestal

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