• News Retrospective

    ‘Rodin: Genius with Giblets’

    Why the great sculptor is so exasperating, and other excerpts from our coverage 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago

    100 YEARS AGO

    Ralph Albert Blakelock, Moonlight, ca. 1885-1889, oil on canvas.

    BROOKLYN MUSEUM, DICK S. RAMSAY FUND, 42.171.

    Is it not about time for the recent exploitation of the sad state of the aged and insane American painter, Ralph Blakelock, to cease?

    While the honoring of the man’s name by making him an Associate of the National Academy was doubtless well meant, it had the unfortunate result of attracting the attention of sensational newspaper writers to his sad situation, who, with execrable taste, to say the least, it seems to us, and from what we hear to the former associates, friends and relatives of the insane painter, have devoted hysterical pages with lurid illustrations, depicting him raving in his cell, for the delectation of Sunday magazine readers. “Drifting, Dreamy and Broke,” was the unfortunate title chosen by one of these writers for his page on the painter, which not complimentary epithet was repeated throughout the article. Let poor Blakelock alone!

    From “Let Blakelock Alone,” May 10, 1913

    75 YEARS AGO

    With private patronage destroyed, artists have been thrown into contact with the problems of pauperism and the demoralization of living on relief, and their reaction to a realization of these has been the source of a deep-going change. Mines, mills and factories, and the artists’ reaction to human problems have superseded apples and flowers as material, to a great extent, and this quickened awareness of life outside the studio has had a tremendously vitalizing effect on their work.

    From “The Congressmen of Art in a New York Session,” by Jeannette Lowe, May 14, 1938

    50 YEARS AGO

    Auguste Rodin, Adam, cast by Alexis Rudier, modeled 1880-81, cast 1925, bronze.

    PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART / RODIN MUSEUM, PHILADELPHIA, BEQUEST OF JULES E. MASTBAUM, 1929. SIGNED RIGHT SIDE OF BASE: RODIN; FOUNDRY MARK BACK OF BASE TO LEFT: ALEXIS RUDIER/FONDEUR PARIS.

    Rilke was the first to see that Rodin can be understood through the details of his work and methods far better than through his grandiose ideas. Of course, the sculptor made ambitious plans—The Gates of Hell are populated by The Thinker, Adam and The Three Shades in the High Romantic style of the Eroica Symphony. But most of Rodin’s vast monumental projects remained incomplete, and some of them are apt to exasperate, where they do not actually disappoint. Rodin trusted the great traditional “subjects,” the noble categories and “missions” of High Art. A man of the people, he never questioned the popular belief in the artist’s responsibility to history nor his rather naïve faith in messages. He was comforted by these sentimental theories in the long period of material difficulty at the beginning of his career. When he became a success—and wore the bearded face of Inspired Genius—fame lent confirmation to his candid faith, and he became the rather shallow priest of a neo-paganism for which the handsome Nijinsky supplied the apparitions of a living god. Rodin was self-educated; a few trips abroad and contacts with Italian and Classic works gave him an enthusiasm which was more intuitive than informed. In fact, Rodin’s utterances were never far from the stereotypes of his time, and, paradoxically, the artist finished his career as a rich bourgeois, wich his palace in Paris, country houses, collections, mistresses, a cellar-full of excellent burgundies. His “power” was worldly, but, luckily, he was always temperamentally attracted to what he thought was the intellectual and metaphysical life.

    From “Rodin: Genius with giblets,” by P.M. Grand, May 1963

    25 YEARS AGO

    Henri Matisse, Le Jardin, ca 1920. The painting was stolen from the Moderna Museet in 1987 and returned earlier this year.

    PHOTO: MODERNA MUSEET.

    “You know, many times when you read a figure in a newspaper about the value of a stolen object, it’s inflated,” Volpe explains. “I’m not saying the Colnaghi figure of six million dollars is inaccurate, but these things do happen.

    “One, it makes better news if the value is high. Two, sometimes it causes confusion for the thieves. Once in a while when I was on the force, I would provide misinformation. It means nothing to the public whether the loot was worth six million or eight million dollars. The thief gets information from the press. When I was a detective and a painting worth a hundred thousand dollars was stolen, I’d say it was worth a hundred and fifty thousand dollars when I announced the theft. When the thief goes to the fence, he’s saying to himself, ‘The fence is not going to outsmart me. I know what it’s worth.’ The fence, however, knows it’s worth only a hundred thousand dollars. So the thief takes it someplace else. For every additional person that the thief speaks to, it raises the possibility that a mistake will be made along the line and an informant will call the police.”

    From “Confessions of an Art Cop,” by Milton Esterow, May 1988

    Copyright 2014, ARTnews LLC, 48 West 38th Street, New York, N.Y. 10018. All rights reserved.