Le soleil couchant © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

The title of an exhibition that starts on Friday at the Giannada Foundation in Martigny leaves no doubt about the works on display. The sculptures and drawings by the great French artist, Auguste Rodin, are primarily of women in erotic postures. But make no mistake, these are the works of an inspired genius, not of a voyeur.

From the collections of the Rodin Museum in Paris, 30 sculptures and 70 drawings have been selected to join those already owned by the Giannada Foundation, including the famous “Kiss”. These works belong to Rodin’s later period, from 1890 until his death in 1917.

Rodin had by then gained the notoriety and the means to afford live models, often several at a time. They remained in motion during the drawing sessions, while Rodin sketched without interruption, rarely looking down to see what he had drawn.
He wanted to capture the tautness of their limbs as they folded their bodies into abandonment and desire. Some of the poses are positively acrobatic.

Luxure © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

It is precisely Rodin’s ability to capture those fleeting moments that preserves his drawings from any form of vulgarity. He celebrates the beauty of a woman’s body, allowing her to appear nude, but never naked.

La Faunesse, © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

Perceptions during Rodin’s time were naturally different. According to Christina Buley-Uribe, world specialist of Rodin’s drawings and one of the co-authors of the catalogue, the scandal that the works generated was due to the absence of academic poses, but also to Rodin’s introduction of “instantaneity and accident” into his drawings.

She quotes Ella Young, an English visitor who accompanied W.B. Yeats to a show in the artist’s presence as saying “He is mad, beastly and sensually mad.”

Rodin maintained that the 10,000 or so drawings that he produced were the “the key to understanding my work.” They served to capture the tenseness and emotions that he wanted his sculptures to express. He was not interested in perpetrating the classical allegorical tradition of his time.

Instead, his figures were intended to convey strong characterization and a powerful physical intensity. Remember his Thinker or his portrait of Balzac.

The Kiss, of which there are only three in the world, greets the visitors at the exhibition. It was recently purchased by the Giannada Foundation and is the symbol of a long love affair between the foundation and the Rodin Museum.

Léonard Giannada founded the FDG in 1978 in memory of a younger brother, Pierre, who had died in a plane accident. By 1984 he had already organized his first Rodin exhibition in Martigny, followed by three related exhibitions; this is the fifth.

Over the years he has constituted an admirable collection of Rodin’s works for the foundation, all of which will mingle with the ones on loan from Paris. Giannada is the only foreign member of the Rodin Museum’s acquisition commission. “Ever since I bought a book on him at the age of 15, Rodin continues to be an important part of my life,” he says.

Erotic Rodin is drawn out of the 1,000 drawings and numerous sculptures in which Rodin expressed an astonishing sensual liberty. How the profoundly catholic Valais where Martigny is located will respond is anyone’s guess.

Lutte amoureuse © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

Despite the title, Erotic Rodin is not an exhibition meant to titillate. It is the stamp in time of the lesser-known work of a great artist, of which he is said to have been particularly proud.

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, was an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London, before moving to Switzerland and becoming an arts journalist.

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