|Basically an equestrian monument. But with a corpse.|
The two best places to look at alot of public sculpture in one area are parks and cemeteries. I've already gone to Paris' other great cemeteries--Père Lachaise and Montmartre--where Jay and I tracked down some works by Dalou, as well as other funerary sculptures and graves of noteworthy personages (In addition to being a great place to cheer up, apparently I think graveyards are also a great place to take a date. What is wrong with me?) Public monuments are often forced to be rather restrained--commissioners tend to be nervous about spending a lot of money on overly radical or creative works that might prove too offensive for a public place. Funerary sculpture, however, tends to be much more creative (perhaps because the patron is already dead...?) At any rate, many really great sculptors during the nineteenth century provided good and interesting works to cemeteries, which makes them a really interesting place for me.
|Some of Degas' favorite things.|
As it happens, Jules Dalou was actually a pretty good guy, and in addition to liking his art quite a bit (not a necessary corollary for writing a dissertation about someone) I actually have a good deal of fondness for him (even less a corollary for writing a dissertation about someone). And that is the primary reason I trekked down to Montparnasse--to go visit the grave of Jules Dalou.
|Who left the flowers?! Ancestor? Fan? My rival Dalou scholar?!?|
|Dalou's bust of his daughter.|
On my way to the Montparnasse Cemetery to see Dalou's final resting place, I walked by a statue of a grand homme by another grand homme--Dalou's friend and rival Auguste Rodin.
|Rodin's Monument to Balzac. This particular cast is on Boulevard Raspail,|
Vaguely interested party: "What are you writing your dissertation on?"
Me: "Do you know who Rodin is? He did The Thinker, The Kiss. . . "
Rapt and attentive listener: "OH YEAH!"
Me: "Well, I'm not writing on him. I'm writing about the other guy. The second most famous sculptor in France at the end of the nineteenth century."
No longer at all rapt and completely inattentive listener: "Oh."
Actually, I almost chose to write my dissertation on Rodin. I wrote my very first sculpture paper on some early artistic photography of Rodin's sculpture. I then wrote one of my master's theses on Rodin's Balzac. I was well on my way to writing the whole damn thing on Rodin when my advisor (thankfully) talked me into Dalou, primarily on the strength of his Triumph to the Republic.
I remain interested to see Rodin's works, as they remind me of my first serious and engaged encounter with sculpture. Numerous bronze casts of the Balzac exist, so I've actually seen this work a couple of times--the MOMA in New York, the Rodin Museum in Paris, various smaller casts elsewhere. I was particularly pleased to see this Balzac though, because it is relatively rare to see Rodin's works actually installed as public monuments. It isn't that Rodin didn't make public monuments, it is just that they were most often rejected. This work created an awful scandal when it was first exhibited as a plaster cast in 1898, so Rodin hid it in his garden. Only years after the artist's death did Paris put the much-maligned work in a public place.
Often, it is difficult to wrap our brains and eyes around why people once found famously scandalous works offensive. But even for me now, there is something distinctly odd about seeing one of Rodin's works plopped into the middle of the street. His works seem to me too private, too expressively and almost histrionically emotional that setting one out in a public square feels like the sculptural equivalent of taking all your clothes off and running into the street screaming hysterically.
There is a nice bit, in an article by Albert Elsen about Rodin, where he says something along the lines of Rodin's gestures not coming from nature. I always found the dramatic, and sometimes rather overdone, otherworldliness of early photographs of Rodin's work to be the best setting for his work--divorced from nature, the real world, and instead placed into a purely expressive and evocative aesthetic space that seems to unfold more from the sculpture itself, rather than just acting as background.
|Edward Steichen's tarted up artsy photograph of the Balzac.|
|Me and 42 tons of bronze.|
Here's the thing though. The sculpture needs people around it. And more than that, it can't help but draw people to it, even if they are just drinking and screwing around, rather than being inspired to democratic and patriotic ideals, or at least doing some insightful art criticism and interpretation. Jules Dalou, mostly because he was that nice and idealistic guy, really believed that he was making sculptures that did something important for people--that brought them together and helped them think great thoughts. Now, that is undoubtedly a whole bunch of idealistic bullshit, but I can't help but think it is pretty nice anyway. And that is why I'm kinda glad to be studying the guy.