Centaurs And Goddesses: Rodin Gives Us Beautiful Sculptures At The British Museum

Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece, The British Museum ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 68 months ago

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Centaurs And Goddesses: Rodin Gives Us Beautiful Sculptures At The British Museum Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece, The British Museum 4
Just look at the folds in the clothing on this Parthenon sculpture. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Two lovers are embraced in a kiss as if they're merging into one, while nearby a man resting his head on his clenched fist is deep in thought. The Kiss and The Thinker are the two sculptures that Auguste Rodin is best known for, and they are part of the the latest blockbuster exhibition at The British Museum that focuses on how Rodin was inspired by Ancient Greek art.

A lot of his inspiration was drawn from the Parthenon sculptures and, it gives The British Museum a reason to wheel out its superb collection of these works — though we're certain it will also re-ignite the controversy of whether the sculptures should be returned.

Rodin's famous Kiss has an adulterous twist. © Musée Rodin

It's great to see the works side by side — when we can see a posed nude by Rodin next to a frieze from the Parthenon, it's easy to see the how Ancient Greek art inspired him. The Parthenon sculptures were said to be the work of the Greek artist Pheidias, who is also credited for statue of Athena at the Parthenon and the wonder of the world that was the statue of Zeus at Olympia. As far as sculptors go, that's quite the legacy. It was Pheidias who Rodin admired and sought to emulate, taking the step of collecting any Greek antiquities he could get his hands on.

The show knows we're here for spectacular sculptures and it hits us with stunning examples from the go. Two Parthenon goddesses recline as we lose ourselves in the beautifully crafted folds in their clothing. Next to them is The Kiss, with two lovers losing themselves in each other, as if nobody else is around to see them. It's ironic that The Kiss is seen in popular culture as a symbol of love when it actually depicts an adulterous couple — so you should be suspicious if somebody ever gifts you a replica for Valentine's Day.

Rodin's own museum of antiquities. Photo: Albert Harlingue. Image © Musée Rodin

Nearby Rodin's greatest hits continue with the contemplative Thinker. We've seen this work numerous times but only when it's pointed out to us do we realise how awkward his pose is — we tried resting our right elbow on our left thigh and it doesn't feel comfortable at all. It ensures the muscles tense so it's great for sculpting but any plan of holding this pose deep in thought for hours is likely to bring on some strained muscles.

Athena has the Parthenon emerging from her head, referencing both that the temple was dedicated to her and that she was born bursting forth from Zeus' head. © Musée Rodin

We like to think of Rodin's sculptures as individual works, but both of his most recognised pieces were part of the plan for his masterpiece — a massive version of the Gates of Hell from Dante's epic poem, Inferno. It was such a big project that Rodin worked on it for decades and a version wasn't cast until after Rodin had died. The six by four metre monster is in Paris so here we see a scale projection, but even that is impressive — we would've loved to see the original make the trip from Paris to be in this exhibition, but maybe that's asking for too much.

A superb frieze from the Parthenon, depicting youths preparing for a cavalcade. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The lack of this centrepieces doesn't feel like a let down as there's a wealth of sculptures on display for us to drool over, whether it be Rodin's Icarus soaring through the air before his fall or a Parthenon sculpture of a Centaur and a Lapith (a human) engaged in a fight frozen in time — both looking like they stand a chance of winning and the fight could turn in either's favour.

Rodin proving he was just as capable when sculpting in bronze. © Musée Rodin

When going to see a Rodin exhibition, most people want to see his famous works and to admire hordes of beautiful sculptures. This exhibition delivers on both counts. By housing it in the museum's massive Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, there's plenty of room for the larger works to command the presence they deserve.  

Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece is at The British Museum from 26 April to 29 July 2018. Tickets are £17 for adults. For more on Rodin, read the museum's insightful blog post about his work.

Last Updated 24 April 2018