Two men, Saint John the Baptist and Honoré de Balzac, separated by 2000 years, by different cultures and languages, by geographical location and physical appearance, are brought to life by one of the world’s greatest sculptors, Auguste Rodin. The bronze sculptures of St. John and Balzac are exhibited at the Cantor Gallery of the College of the Holy Cross along with many other works by the famous French sculptor.
Great art has longevity and Rodin’s works are as powerful now as they were when he first put his hand into a lump of clay, gouging and pushing the wet mass into portrait-likenesses of intimate friends, nude female models or imagined personalities like St. John. The key to powerful and lasting art is universality and emotional truth. In great art, we recognize the humanity, the alertness and the fragility of individuals. Rodin’s most famous examples of these attributes are “The Kiss,” 1898, and “The Thinker,” 1902. Alas, neither of these are on view at the Cantor Gallery, but Rodin’s sculptures of Balzac, St. John, and “The Walking Man” make equally strong statements.
The title for Rodin’s “L’homme qui Marche” (“The Walking Man,” 1878) could be more accurately translated into English as “The Man Who Walks,” placing the emphasis on the human man, rather than on the verb, “walk,” and the action. In any case, the sculpture has a surprising origin. Rodin had sculpted a “fragment” of a man’s torso and the part was available in his studio, along with other fragments. He also had the “legs” of the sculpture for John the Baptist. Inspirational light dawned and he decided to join them together. Satisfied with the results, he made no attempt to match their differently textured surfaces or the joint between them. Art critics consider it to be among his most dynamic works. So, struggling artists: don’t throw away your bits and pieces of works. Recombine them.
Rodin’s sculptural portrait of the famous French realist novelist, Honoré de Balzac, is a failure and success story of genius dismissed and genius recognized. In 1891, Rodin accepted a commission from the “Society of Men of Letters” for a sculpture honoring Balzac, then dead for 40 years. Working from a daguerreotype of Balzac, an overweight, short man with a bristle mustache and wild hair, Rodin made many study-portraits of him over a number of years. When he submitted the finished plaster cast to the members of the Society, they rejected it as unbecoming to their great hero. The sculpture is now recognized as one of Rodin’s greatest works. The “letter men” were wrong. It is great art.