At the heart of the world’s fair
In 1900, pharm Auguste Rodin was already an idol. But he retained the independent spirit of an
eternal rebel. When Paris hosted its world’s fair, sovaldi the Exposition Universelle, this freeminded artist decided to set himself apart, organizing his own personal retrospective. He installed his pavilion at a strategic site, Place de l’Alma, where he presented a well-staged collection of his own creations. It was located near the heart of the official exhibition, which spread from the Champ de Mars to the Palais de Chaillot, and from the Explanade des Invalides to the Petit and Grand Palais (both of which were constructed for the exhibition and still exist today). Here Rodin presented numerous sculptures (165 in all, including marbles, bronzes and plaster models), but also drawings and photographs of his works, a very avant-garde initiative for the time.
Exposition universelle, 1900
The minister’s visit
Once past the grand entrance graced with large white columns, the stage was carefully set in a light-filled room hung with awnings for the visitor to appreciate the full glory of the art of this great sculptor, who was celebrating his sixtieth birthday in grand style. Rodin had been angered by the attitude of the establishment since his humiliation two years earlier in 1898, with the rejection of his statue of Balzac by the Société des Gens de Letters. (This statue can be seen today at the intersection of Blvd Raspail and Avenue Montparnasse.) Nevertheless, the presence of the minister of public education and fine arts, George Leygues, at the inauguration of his pavilion, confirmed that Rodin was indeed among the glories of France. What a long way he had come
since the 1860’s when the artist, disappointed by three failures to pass the entrance exam for the École National des Beaux-Arts, the fine arts academy, was forced to earn his living as a brick layer.
The unfinished door
Ten years ago (March-June 2001), the exhibition of 1900 was partially reconstituted at the Luxembourg Museum. One of the most fascinating objects of this simulation was a model of Rodin’s pavilion produced by students of the Olivier de Serres School of Applied Arts, today on display in Rodin’s studio in Meudon. In this model, one twentieth of the size of the original, one could observe the structure of the pavilion, but also many of the sculptures exhibited inside, such as the statue of Balzac and the famous Bourgeois de Calais. But another sculpture drew everyone’s attention: It was the legendary Porte de l’Enfer, (the gate to hell), which the state had commissioned from the artist twenty years earlier and which had not yet been delivered in 1900. Visitors thronged around this monument, which would become the symbol of the perpetually unfinished creation. Rodin worked on this intermittently until his death in 1917, but it would not be cast in bronze until after his death. It wasn’t until 1937 that it was installed in the Rodin Museum, his former studio.
Rodin, a world star
In 1900, the care and attention that Rodin devoted to the publication of a catalog of his exhibition was also very new. For the text of this publication, Rodin called upon noted writers and also solicited the contributions of colleagues such as Claude Monet and Eugene Carrière, who gave the best they had to offer. For the occasion, Carrière produced a lithograph of Rodin at work which would be used on the poster of the exhibition. Fifty million people visited the Exposition Universelle. Only a part of the visitors would stop at Rodin’s Pavilion de L’Alma, after visiting the Grand Guignol, the Palais de la Dance or the Manoir à l’Envers – the nearest attractions. Nonetheless, Rodin’s reputation was further enhanced by this event. He would go on to receive the Légion of Honor, would exhibit in London, Düsseldorf, Vienna and even in Tokyo (in 1912), and his statue Le Penseur (the Thinker), presented in 1904, would become one of the icons of the twentieth century.
|Le penseur||Auguste Rodin, 1840-1917|