12 August 2014

Moore Rodin at Compton Verney

Henry Moore has been mentioned in 13 previous posts here so I am obviously an admirer of his work. Last October I posted about Francis Bacon Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and have now seen Moore Rodin at Compton Verney, another show contrasting the work of two great artists*. The Henry Moore Foundation at Perry Green is one of the two co-sponsors and, after being shown there in 2013, Moore Rodin is currently at Compton Verney House whose Trust is the other co-sponsor and celebrating its 10th anniversary. Not surprisingly, the Musée Rodin in Paris also played a major role in making it all happen.

Compton Verney is quite rightly proud of its ‘Capability’ Brown landscape which makes a fine setting for eleven large pieces of sculpture. Moore’s work particularly benefits from being seen in the open (examples previously referred to here were at Kew Gardens, Dartington Hall, and Perry Green and this is no exception; Moore’s The Arch (1969, Fibreglass, below):

There is also the contrast of the 19th and 20th century sculptures with the House’s 18th century facades ; Rodin’s Walking Man on a Column (1900, left) and Moore’s Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae (1968, right):

and between sculptures positioned at a distance; Moore’s Seated Woman (1958-59, left) and Rodin’s Jean d’Aire , Monumental Nude (1887, right):

There is also the chance to see details such as Moore’s characteristic scratch marks on The Arch (below left) and to appreciate the viewer’s perspective which Rodin intended for Monument to the Burghers of Calais (1889, below right) but which will no longer be available after its return to Victoria Tower Gardens (Westminster, London, only a few metres from Moore’s Knife Edge Two Piece (1962–65) at Monument Green):

Inside Compton Verney House around 160 smaller items, many of them works on paper, are on display in the galleries and encourage the visitor to make comparisons and seek contrasts between the artists’ subjects, materials and methods of working. Various themes are explored including interlocking forms, mother-and-child embraces, Moore’s shelter drawings from London during World War 2 and Rodin’s ‘black drawings’ made in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war. Moore’s daughter, Mary, has curated a fascinating selection of objects from both artist’s personal collections, Rodin’s being primarily classical and Egyptian while Moore’s was more eclectic including ethnographic and found objects - bones and stones.

It is for this part of the exhibition that the guide by its curator, Anita Feldman, is particularly helpful. It includes a transcript of a conversation about Rodin between Moore and Alan Bowness in 1966. Moore admits to not having been much interested in Rodin in the 1920s but that his admiration grew subsequently. Part of their dialogue:
AB: Like many of the drawings, the Dancers and the Walking Man are all very much concerned with the idea of movement. This is clearly of the greatest importance to Rodin, and it links him with the impressionist painters, just as other aspects of hi work link him with the symbolists who were also his contemporaries. But how far do you think that the representation of movement is a proper concern of sculpture? 
HM: This is one of the ways in which my generation does stand for a reaction against Rodin. One of my points is that sculpture should not represent actual physical movement. This is something I have never wanted. I believe that sculpture is made out of static, immovable material. 
AB: What about the Balzac [right] then? Do you think as many do that it's the culmination of Rodin's work, or do you find it less interesting, because it's clothed for one thing? 
HM: No - because underneath one can see that there is the nude figure, and that it's been clothed. It’s the same with the Burghers. What makes Rodin the great sculptor that he is, is his complete understanding of the body s internal structure, his ability to feel inside into the sculpture. This is so intense - even the late work has got behind it all that other observation and knowledge of the human figure. He couldn't have simplified the Balzac - he couldn't have started with the idea of a draped figure. Think of all the studies that he had to make first. (pages 129-130)
Earlier on the theme of Finished/Unfinished, Feldman observes:
… with Rodin's bronzes, the physicality of the body is heightened by the impression of his own hands having modelled it initially in clay. Witnessing Rodin at work, Paul Gsell wrote: 'The clay figure was taking shape. Rodin's hands came and went, adding bits of clay, gathering it in his large palms, with swift, accurate movements; then the thumb and the fingers took part, turning a leg with a single pressure, rounding a hip, sloping a shoulder, turning the head, and all with incredible swiftness, almost as if he were performing a conjuring trick.'' Moore on the other hand was more of a carver than a modeller, preferring to pare down the surface of a material rather than build it up. Thus tool marks are often evident in his bronzes, cast from plaster originals where the surfaces have been vigorously hewn with chisels, files and cheese graters. 
Finally, both Moore and Rodin took the concept of finished/unfinished a stage further by introducing evidence from industrial fabrication; for example, by allowing the runners, weld marks, pointing marks or joins from the casting process to remain visible rather than 'finishing' the bronzes by filing these down. Rodin relished the accidents which resulted from the piece mould casting process - seams, air bubbles and dollops of liquid plaster, supporting mounds, and finger and cloth imprints. (page 93)
Moore's Draped Torso (1953, left)

Moore Rodin ends at Compton Verney on 31 August.

* Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Henry Moore (1898-1986); they never met.

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