Friday, August 29, 2014

Thinking About "The Thinker" And More

Auguste Rodin (1840 - 1917), The Thinker, bronze,
modeled 1880-81, enlarged 1902-04; cast 1919,
79 x 51.25 × 55.25 in. (200.7 × 130.2 × 140.3 cm)
Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Photo:  Rodin Museum Website

August Rodin's "The Thinker" seems to be everywhere.  Castings appear in various sizes, placed in museums and parks alike. The sculpture is part of the public's conscious, so familiar it's passed by.  The origin forgotten or never known.

Sculptures of Auguste Rodin (1840 - 1917), 
partial installation view,
B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Gallery (Gallery 800)
Photo:  Hillary Ganton

Yet, the work still attracts.  Witness the "must see" stop for tour groups.  A re-evaluation is in order.  

Tour Group in front of The Thinker* by Auguste Rodin (1840 - 1917), 
B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Gallery (Gallery 800)
Photo:  Hillary Ganton

The Thinker as well as many of Rodin's works were created for the sculptor's monumental doors entitled The Gates of Hell.  

Auguste Rodin (1840 - 1917), The Gates of Hell,
modeled 1880 - 1917; cast 1926 - 28, bronze, 
20 ft. 10 3/4 in. x 13 ft. 2 in. x 33 3/8 in. (636.9 x 401.3 x 84.8 cm)
Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Photo:  Rodin Museum Website

In 1880, the French government commissioned Rodin to devise a set of doors for a planned museum of decorative arts.  The imagery the sculptor chose was based on Dante's Divine Comedy, in particular the poem's first part, Inferno. It was Rodin's modern answer to the Gates of Paradise, Lorenzo Ghiberti's famous renaissance doors on the Florence Baptistry.**    

Although the idea for the museum was abandoned by 1887, Rodin worked on the project until his death.  He used the portal as a background for his evolving sculptural ideas, forming in clay and plaster a wrenching transformation of the human form.  

The Gates of Hell were never cast during the artist's lifetime.  When Rodin died in 1917, only the plaster version existed.  This was left in pieces but subsequently reconstructed by the first curator of the Musée Rodin.  The full-size plaster Gates of Hell now resides in the Musée d'Orsay which is located on the site intended for the proposed decorative arts museum.  Thus, the doors rest in the place originally envisioned.

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), The Gates of Hell
between 1880 and 1917, plaster,
20 ft. 10 in. x 13 ft. 1 1/2 in. x 3 ft. 1 13/32 in. ( 635 x 400 x 94 cm)
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR
Photo:  Musée d'Orsay Web site

There are over 180 figures on the portal.  The sense of movement and formation are the great triumphs of the doors.  Figures emerge and submerge from the watery background. They evolve and develop. Partial body parts express the whole. Fragments would become stand alone sculptures.  Forms are replicated.  Rodin's art is an art in flux, revolutionary for its time.  

The seated Thinker presides over the multifarious figures.  Considered a depiction of the poet Dante, he may be meditating or contemplating the tortured beings about him. The Three Shades, the same figure repeated three times on top of the entablature's midpoint, emphasize The Thinker's centrality.  Their bent bodies and extended arms lead the viewer below. They are the souls of the damned and, according to Dante's Divine Comedy, stand at the entrance to Hell. 

The Thinker was turned into an independent artwork in 1888.  Cast in numerous sizes, the sculpture became one of Rodin's most popular pieces.  Other Gates of Hell figures were also transferred into full-size, free-standing sculptures. Some transfigurations make The Gates ancestry difficult to trace.  Take a look at Rodin's The Martyr.

Auguste Rodin (1840 - 1917), The Martyr,
modeled 1885, bronze, 
 61-1/2 in. (156.2 cm),
Photo:  Hillary Ganton

The autonomous work evolved from a standing figure on The Gates of Hell lintel.  She is to the left of The Thinker behind a squatting woman ***.  

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Lintel detail of The Gates of Hell
between 1880 and 1917, plaster,
Photo:  Artstor

Note the position of her torso with its splayed breasts. Her right leg with its foot turned inward (slightly off the lintel's edge) offers little stability.  In 1885, The Gates small lintel figure was realized as an independent, almost life-size bronze sculpture. 

Auguste Rodin (1840 - 1917), Detail of The Martyr,
modeled 1885, bronze, 
 61-1/2 in. (156.2 cm.),
Photo:  Hillary Ganton

The same figure made another appearance in the form of the goddess Fortune on The Gates lower left door panel.

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Left door panel detail of The Gates of Hell
between 1880 and 1917, plaster,
Photo:  Artstor

Here, she is winged, a horizontal recumbent on a tomb-like structure. A veil across her eyes prevents her from seeing.  Her right hand holds a spoked wheel.  The veil and wheel are Fortune's attributes. The latter indicative of  the cycles of fate and the former alluding to the unpredictability of fortune - those that do not deserve good luck, sometimes get it.  

The Martyr figure reappears in 1895 as the fallen Icarus in Rodin's sculpture The Fall of Icarus.  Here she plunges head first, her nose touching the ground.   In 1911, she is found again upright rendered in relief on a white marble cemetery monument called Le Lys brisé.  

Rodin used live models for his work.  The Martyr model must have been low-lying on her back when he formed her in clay.  The positioning of the breasts, flaccid tissue spread wide apart, would not be possible on a standing woman. Thus, when the figure was released from The Gates and made independent, she was restored to her original supine pose.  Rodin meant her to be seen from above.  He gave her a low, flattened platform.  At the time, such a placement would have astounded if not perplexed viewers.  Figurative representations were seen standing or seated not sprawled on the ground.  Furthermore, Rodin's figure spills over her perch, entering the spectator's space.  This is not art on a high, untouchable pedestal. 

With her head dropping backward one way, chin raised in opposition, arms spread apart and legs awkwardly posed, she appears as a woman who suffered a violent death or a woman in sexual ecstasy.  As such, she seems the progenitor of  Alberto Giacometti's Woman with Her Throat Cut - a female abstraction of rapture or pain.  The lineage is there.

Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966), Woman with Her Throat Cut,
1932 (cast 1949), bronze,
8 x 34 1/2 x 25 in. (20.3 x 87.6 x 63.5 cm)
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Photo:  Museum of Modern Art Web site

Giacometti studied with the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle who had been Rodin's assistant from 1893 until 1909.   

Rodin's distortion and breakdown of the human form, his replications and revolutionary position of sculptures influenced future generations. Although he depleted parts of the whole - a hand, arm or torso - his work remains recognizable.  Human qualities prevail.  His achievements made possible much of modern arts's representational freedom.

You can see Rodin in the background of Carl Andre's creations made of duplicated forms positioned on the floor or Joel Shapiro's movement filled constructions.

Carl Andre (born 1935), 144 Lead Square, 1969,
lead, 144 units, overall 3/8 in. x 12 ft. x 12 ft.  (1 x 367.8 x 367.8 cm)
Photo:  Museum of Modern Art Web site

Joel Shapiro (born 1941), 1982, cedar, two views of Untitled,
46 1/4 x 48 x 48 1/4 in. (117.4 x 122 x 122.5 cm)
Photo:  Museum of Modern Art Web site

Think of Louise Bourgeois's totemic wood sculptures, David Smith's Forgings or Kiki Smith's hanging body parts and female nudes, especially her crouching Lilith.  There are others.   Rodin led the way.

Some 50 sculptures of the master are located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Gallery 800.  If you have not been, go.  If you have,  go again.

*Auguste Rodin (1840 - 1917), The Thinker, bronze, first modeled probably in 1880, this bronze cast ca. 1910, h. 27 5/8 in. (70.2 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

**The original East Doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, Florence, Italy are in the Museo delle Opere del Duomo.  The East doors presently on the Florence Baptistery are replicas.
Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455),
Gates of Paradise, 1425-1452, gilt bronze
East Doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni,
Florence, Italy, gilt bronze,
approx. 18 ft. (548.64 cm), each panel approx.  31 1/2 in. (800.1 cm)
© Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence
Museo delle Opere del Duomo, Florence, Italy 
Photo: Tuscan Traveler

***This figure became the independent sculpture known as The Crouching Woman.

Friday, July 18, 2014

If you think you have seen enough Picassos...

you are wrong.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Science and Charity, 1897,
oil on canvas, 77.6 x 98.2 in. (197 x 249.5 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Photo:  WikiArt

Just when you think you have seen enough Picassos, the painter astounds.  Such was the case for this viewer on a recent trip to Barcelona.  

I assessed no need to return to the city's Museu Picasso since I had been there two or three times in the past.  However, the museum's lovely buildings enticed.  Five smartly connected grand townhouses built between the 13th and 15th centuries offer a spacious, relaxed venue to look at art.  I thought, just a few hours.  Two afternoons later, amazed by the artist's fecundity and youthful brilliance, I want to go back.  

The collection is made up of over 4,000 works - paintings, drawings, prints and ceramics. Renown for its comprehensive holdings from the Picasso's early (1890 - 1897) and training period (1897 - 1901), the museum also includes significant works from the artist's Blue Period (1901 - 1904), his 1917 residency in Barcelona, and the complete 1957 Las Meninas painting series.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Portrait of Aunt Pepa,
June - July 1896, oil on canvas, 
22.6 x 19.9 in. (57.5 x 50.5 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona

The pieces on view, installed chronologically with few exceptions, clearly show how Picasso's genius manifested at an exceptionally early age. The artist is said to have sketched before he could talk.  At seven he took lessons from his father, an academic painter and instructor.  By nine, he was making masterly works.

Paintings and drawings from the artist's teens are executed with a virtuosity that belie the artist's age.  Panels of small oil landscapes capture the light and essence of the countryside. Portraits are preternatural in their psychological penetration.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Portrait of Aunt Pepa seated in an armchair,
 1895, graphite pencil on paper
4.7 x 3.2 in. (12 x 8.1 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona

The image of  his paternal Aunt Pepa is a case in point.  Created when Picasso was fifteen, the portrait pulsates with life and imparts a powerful sense of the sitter's personality.  A year before, at age fourteen, the artist sketched his aunt seated in an armchair.  The drawing, from an 36-page album of sketches, like the subsequent painting, distinctly evokes the aunt's character.  

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), First Communion, 1896,
oil on canvas, 65.4 x 46.5 in. (166 x 118 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Photo:  WikiArt

First Communion and Science and Charity mark a turning point in Picasso's career.  Impressive in their narrative content, these works exhibit extraordinary technical skill and a sophisticated handling of composition and color.  The spectator is drawn into the scenes by compositional diagonals. Viewers become attendees at that which is taking place.  Colors have depth and richness.  In First Communion, the white of the communicant's dress  is filled with pale hues of blue, gold and pink.  Browns, blues, pinks, yellows and whites activate the walls of Science and Charity. The paintings are formidable achievements for an artist of any age; astounding for a teen of 15 and 16 years.  They brought the artist much acclaim.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Las MeninasAugust 17, 1957,
oil on canvas, 76 in × 100 in. (194 × 260  cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Photo:  Wikipedia 

Although successful in the then popular realistic style, Picasso quickly abandoned it.  He wanted to pursue painting that was not done before. Again and again, he would abandon his achievements and seek something else, a new way of seeing.  This pursuit is particularly evident in the three galleries devoted to works from the artist's Las Meninas series.  Here are placed side by side studies completed in the same day and those done one day after the next.  

From August to December 1957, Picasso undertook a thorough analysis of Las Meninas, the seminal painting by the seventeenth-century artist Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez.*  

In 5 months, Picasso produced 58 works: 44 deal directly with the Velázquez's masterpiece; 9 involve representations of pigeons which the artist saw from his studio's window; 3 are landscapes; 1 is a portrait of his wife Jacqueline; and 1 is a painting predominated by a piano and its player (The Piano).

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Las Meninas, September 4, 1957,
oil on canvas, 18.1 x 14.8 in. (46 x 37.5 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Photo:  WikiArt

Paintings in the series are hung in such a way Picasso's exploration of Velázquez's work becomes palpable.  On this writer's visit, an oil completed on September 18 was paired with one completed on September 19.  A painting from October 2 was next to one from October 3.  Beside each other were four paintings from October 24.  Six from November 17 formed a group on another wall.  Confronted with the artist's outpouring of creativity, viewing becomes an intoxicating experience.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Las Meninas, November 15, 1957,
oil on canvas, 51.2 x 37.8 in. (130 x 96 cm),
The Museu Picasso also highlights an aspect of Picasso traditionally overlooked.  This is the artist's long-term friendship with Jaume Sabartés (1881 - 1968).  The museum's very existence may be attributed to this man.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Blue portrait of Jaume Sabartés, 1901,
oil on canvas, 18.1 x 15.0 in. (46 x 38 cm),
Museu Picasso, Barcelona
Photo: Museu Picasso Web site 

Sabartés was an artist and writer of prose and poetry.  He met Picasso in 1899 and became part of the painter's artistic circle in Barcelona and later Paris.  Always an enthusiastic supporter of Picasso's work, he wrote about the artist's life and art. 

In 1935, he became Picasso's personal Secretary. Twenty-five years later, Sabartés initiated the founding of a museum devoted to Picasso. In 1963 the museum opened.  At the time, its holdings were primarily made up of Sabartés's personal Picasso collection.  In fact, the museum at first was named, the Sabartés Collection. 

From the year they met, throughout his life, Picasso drew, sketched and painted his friend.  A number of these portraits may be seen at the museum.  They attest to the closeness of the two men and reveal a Picasso who delights in the intimacy of a lasting, close relationship.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), Portrait of Jaume Sabartés and the actress Esther Williams, 
23 May 1957, colored grease pencils on magazine printed paper
14.0 x 10.4 in. (35.6 x 26.5 cm),

My experience of revisiting the Museu Picasso made me remember a viewing truth: when the opportunity presents itself to see works by a great artist, don't miss it.  

*See image below for reference.
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez ( 1599-1660), 
Las Meninas1656, oil on canvas, 
125.2 × 108.7 in. (318 × 276  cm)
Photo:  Wikipedia

Monday, June 16, 2014

Catching the Shows You Want To See

Chaim Soutine (1893 - 1943), Plucked Goose, 1932 - 1933, 
oil on panel, 19 1/4 x 16 1/2 in.  (51.8 x 58.4 cm)
Private Collection. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
Photo:  Paul Kasmin Gallery Web site

I almost missed the sixteen Chaim Soutine paintings at the Paul Kasmin Gallery in the exhibition "Life in Death: Still Lifes and Select Masterworks of Chaim Soutine." The show opened April 24 and ended June 14, 2014.  For whatever reasons, I was unaware of it until I read Karen Rosenberg's review in the Friday, June 5th printed edition of the New York Times.  

As often happens, I got around to reading Friday's paper on Sunday. This left me only five days to see the exhibit.  Commitments galore necessitated a run to the gallery mid-afternoon on Saturday, the show's closing day.  It was barely enough time to absorb Soutine's jam-packed, riveting artworks.  

The paintings were all from private collections.   With the exception of one or two, they were top-notch - painter's paintings.  It would have been a loss not to have seen them. 

Since New York is filled with hundreds of art galleries, museums and, it seems, a continuous lineup of art fairs, the question arises how not to miss exhibitions that are important, interesting and meaningful to the viewer. Thus this blog post which is one art enthusiast's method for solving the problem.  Keep in mind, the remedy may fail as evidenced by the first paragraph. 

The approach is three-pronged.  First, regularly scan the arts section of periodicals in your normal purview.  An image, article or review may entice further exploration.  Make note of the show's location as well as opening and closing dates.  

Second, sign-up for online museum communications.  Museums send e-correspondences which anyone may subscribe to and they are free. These e-mails or e-newsletters supply updates on current and future exhibits in addition to lectures, talks, and a variety of programs and events.  

In general, subscribing is simple to carry out.  Having said this, the design or nomenclature of some Web sites can confuse.  In such cases, searching menus will lead to success.  The following offers a "how to" for some prominent and not so prominent but worthy institutions.  

Main Entrance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 
Photo:  Wikipedia Web site © CC BY-SA 3.0

Start with the museums's home page.  Look for any link that may indicate a connection such as the words "e-mail updates" or "e-newsletter." The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) make it simple.  Clearly indicated on the top left hand corner of their respective home pages, is an area to sign up for e-mails (Metropolitan Museum) or e-news (MoMA).  You can also join MoMA's e-news by a hyperlink at the bottom of the home page entitled "E-News" in small gray print.  

The New Museum, New York
Photo:  Lucia P. 
Yelp Web site 

To subscribe to the New Museum's newsletter, on the bottom of the museum's home page click on "Follow-Us."  Once on the "Follow-Us" page, click on "SIGN UP NOW" and fill out the subscription form.  

As for the The Frick Collection,  place the cursor on the main menu's "Interact."  From the drop down menu that appears, click on "E-News."  Complete the "E-News" sign-up fields and you are done. 

For subscriptions to The Whitney Museum of American Art, place the cursor on the museum's home page main menu's "ABOUT."  Scroll down the drop down menu to "SUBSCRIBE" and click.  Key in your e-mail address and click on the rectangular box with the words "SIGN ME UP!"

Photo:  New York Magazine Web site 
Courtesy of the Museum of Biblical Art

Linkage to some lesser known museums may broaden your art horizons. The excellent Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) is a case in point.  The main menu of this museum's home page is on the left hand side.  A click on "MOBIA FRIENDS" will lead to the "MOBIA Friends" page.  Here enter your e-mail address in the box provided then click on the small square box under your address. Complete the registration form and click on "Sign Up."  Subscribing also will get you a discount at the museum's shop and invites to special talks.  

Photo:  Hélène Binet 

The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) may be unfamiliar but deserves attention.  This museum focuses on handmade objects in a variety of mediums.  Imaginative shows make viewers reconsider the artistry of so called crafts.  The link to join MAD's mailings is located at the bottom right of the home page.  Click on the "join our e-mail list" in small red letters.  Look close.  The link can easily be missed.  

Art gallery mailings are a third way to keep well-informed.  Almost every gallery has a guest book which visitors can sign, leave their comments and request to be placed on the mailing list.  Requests can also be made with the gallery's receptionist in person or by phone as well as by e-mail.  See the gallery's Web site for e-mail contact information.  

The limit to subscriptions is left to the reader.  Unsubscribe is always an option.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sense and Sensuousness

Houdon and Clodion 

Installation view  of 
Enlightenment and Beauty: 
Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion
 in the Frick Collection's Portico Gallery
with back view of 
Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828),
Young Lise in the Guise of Innocence, 1775, 
marble, 18 1/8 in. (46 cm),
Private Collection,
The Frick Collection, New York 
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Twelve eighteenth-century sculptures are presently on view in the Frick Collection's Portico Gallery.  Half are in marble; the other half are terracottas.  Six are by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) and six are by Claude Michel called Clodion (1738-1814).    These illuminating works make up the aptly entitled exhibition, Enlightenment and Beauty: Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion

Installation view  of 
Enlightenment and Beauty: 
Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion
 in the Frick Collection's Portico Gallery
The Frick Collection, New York 
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

The Portico Gallery was inaugurated in 2011.  Created out of an open air loggia original to the mansion, the gallery was designed specifically to showcase decorative arts and sculpture. The space has a south-western orientation. Large glass panels on its south side let in abundant natural light.  Although plentiful light may be a problem for paintings, it is less so for sculpture and ceramics.  In the case of sculptures, diurnal light changes call attention to different aspects of works - certain features may be overlooked under different conditions. This is particularly true for the current exhibition - the third to take place in the Portico space.  Intense light discloses the transparency of thinly carved marble; shadiness brings out a sculpture's spatial quality and finely carved details.  Low light shows up surface patterns that brightness may obscure. Repeat visits reward viewers.

The show's year-long residency necessitates modifications. Notable pieces will rotate since private lenders did not want their artworks away for so long.  At present, only four sculptures in the Portico Gallery belong to the Frick; eight are on loan*.  This is a rare opportunity to study works by two sculptors intimately and side by side.

Houdon and Clodion were contemporaries who were students together in Paris and Rome. In Paris, both studied at the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture.  Clodion won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1759; Houdon was so honored in 1761.  The prize was the result of an annual competition established by the French Royal Academy in the seventeenth century. Winners were given scholarships to a three-year program at the École des Élèves Protégés, an elite art school within the French Academy which was established to prepare Prix de Rome awardees for their three years of study at the French Academy in Rome. Houdon's and Clodion's attendance at the Paris art school overlapped as did their residencies in Rome where they had adjacent studios. Schooled in Greek and Roman culture and art with exposure to extensive collections of antiquities, the artists's education diverged on some salient points.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), Madame His
1775, marble,
 31 1/2 x 17 x 12 1/2 in. (80 x 43.2 x 31.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw, 2007
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Houdon emphasized the direct studies of actual bodies - cadavers - developing a keen sense of lifelike realism.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814),
The Cupid Seller (La marchande d’amours)
c. 1765–70, terracotta,
8 3/4 x 10 7/8 in. (22.2 x 27.6 cm)
Anonymous loan
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Clodion looked to and was influenced by the Baroque master artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) and early Florentine sculptors such as Donatello (1386-1466) and Desiderio da Settignano (c. 1429-1464).

The artists were part of the Enlightenment Age and, as such, were surrounded by the zeitgeist of reason, individualism and progress through scientific methods. Although they both have been described as neoclassical or neo-baroque with Clodion also labeled as rococo, their work differed markedly.  To generalize (with much needed modifications), Houdon's art appeals prominentlly to reason, "sense" while sensuousness predominates Clodion's creations.  Viewing Houdon's art prompts the question, "How did he do it?"  Clodion's sculptures elicit the desire to touch and ask, "What is it about?"

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), The Comtesse du Cayla
1777, marble, 21 1/4 in. (54 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York 
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Houdon became renown for his portrait sculptures.  His technical proficiency rendered likenesses with astounding veracity.   Look at his Countess of Cayla with her mussed hair flying out behind her and sideward gaze. Although only a bust portrait, Houdon creates a sense of motion as if the Countess has just turned her head while moving quickly forward.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828) Armand-Thomas Hue, Marquis de Miromesnil
1777, marble, 25 1/2 in. (64.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York, purchased 1935 
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Even the artist's more subdued works convey a feeling of life - breath. Armand-Thomas Hue, Marquis de Miromesnil appears as a dignified magistrate defined by his facial characteristics as well as his costume of office.  The carving is spectacular - marble turns into cloth.  Note the well-formed wig, the outer robe's heaviness, the texture of the cossack with its delicate rounded buttons, and the taut sash along with its half hidden, multi-looped, large bow.

Looking up and down the Portico Gallery,  the Houdon's handling of hair and ribbon-like materials amazes.

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), 
back view of Armand-Thomas Hue, Marquis de Miromesnil
1777, marble, 25 1/2 in. (64.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York, purchased 1935 
Photo:  The Frick Collection Web site 

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), 
back view of Madame His
1775, marble,
 31 1/2 x 17 x 12 1/2 in. (80 x 43.2 x 31.8 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw, 2007
Photo: The Frick Collection Web site

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828),
Young Lise in the Guise of Innocence, 1775, 
marble, 18 1/8 in. (46 cm),
Private Collection,
The Frick Collection, New York 
Photo: The Frick Collection Web site

While Houdon's verisimilitude inspires awe, Clodion's carvings seduce.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814), Zephyrus and Flora
1799, terracotta, 20 3/4 in. (52.7 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Specializing in small-scale, highly finished terra-cotta statuettes and reliefs, Clodion imbued his compositions with a liveliness and more than a touch of eroticism.  He excelled in the narrative, translating the antique into his own modern vision.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814),
The Cupid Seller (La marchande d’amours)
c. 1765–70, marble,
10 7/8 x 11 3/4 in. (27.6 x 29.8 cm)
Private Collection
Photo:  The Frick Collection Web site

His The Cupid Seller (La marchande d’amours) relief, seen here in terra-cotta and marble, was based on a print of an ancient wall painting unearthed in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum in the late 1750s.  The scene depicts a love or cupid vendor holding up a cupid for sale to a buyer accompanied by her attendant.  A cupid standing near the prospective buyer and another caged one indicate the different types of love available.  It is a playful, amusing scene which Clodion renders with composed gravity.  These are earlier works by Clodion. The terra-cotta was most likely done first. The composition then repeated at the request of a client in the more expensive marble.  They illustrate Clodion's proficiency in both mediums.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814), side view of Zephyrus and Flora
1799, terracotta, 20 3/4 in. (52.7 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo: The Frick Collection Web site

The sculptor's interpretation of the Zephyrus and Flora myth represents the god of the west wind taking hold of the goddess of flowers with his right arm while crowning her with a wreath of roses with his left.  

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814), detail of Zephyrus and Flora
1799, terracotta, 20 3/4 in. (52.7 cm)
The Frick Collection, New York
Photo: Epoch Times Web site

Body to body, lips almost touching, the two lovers look into each others eyes. Three putti enhance the scene.  One winged child pushes Flora's left leg closer to Zephyrus as if hurrying their union.  Another holds up a basket of flowers which a third reaches into it with one hand while dropping flowers near the goddess with the other.  

The artist's free-standing works with their swirling or circular configuration invite viewing in the round.

Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738–1814) Three Graces
early 1770s, terra-cotta, 
20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm)
Private collection
Photo: Michael Bodycomb

Although Clodion's Three Graces was intended to provide a basin support, the piece needs no function.  The goddesses are sensual beauties.  They hold hands around a central column. Their graceful bodies unhidden by clinging cloth.  Each is distinguished by subtle changes in dress, hairstyle and pose.   Positions and decorative drapery impart a gentle rhythm, enlivening the architectonic pillar-like composition.  It is a sculpture that charms as do others in this beautiful show.**  Go see for yourself.  

*Jean-Antoine Houdon's Young Lise in the Guise of Innocence from a private collection is due to leave the show in June.  Confession: this viewer took a flashlight to Lise's thinly carved back bow.  When the flash was on, the marble became translucent.
**The Dance of Time:  Three Nymphs Supporting a Clock, 1788, terra-cotta, gilt brass, and glass, by Clodion and Jean-Baptiste Lepaute (1727-1802) and Jean-Antoine Houdon's small, tinted plaster of Diana, before 1793 are on view in the Frick Collection's Fragonard Room. These works beg to be looked at from every angle.  Alas, the Clodion rests on the room's eighteenth-century white marble chimneypiece.  Although set before a mirror, the back of the piece cannot be seen clearly.  The rear view of Houdon's Diana is also blocked. The goddess is placed on an eighteenth-century commode against the room's south wall.   Fortunately, the two pieces will be installed in the Portico Gallery during the run of the show: The Dance of Time: Three Nymphs Supporting a Clock, July through April 2015 and Diana, October through April 2015.  

Enlightenment and Beauty: 
Sculptures by Houdon and Clodion
April 1, 2014 to April 5, 2015

1 East 70th Street, Manhattan, New York
Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
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Lincoln's Birthday (Wednesday, February 12) 
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