Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), the influential and talented maverick whose output and example served to free sculpture from the academic conventions of the 19th century, was fascinated by the diversity of form that a hand could embody, as well as the meaning and expression it was able to convey. The human hand is a natural subject for any artist, but is perhaps most appropriate for sculptors, whose own hands are so essential to the creation of their work. From the 1850s onward, Rodin repeatedly turned to the hand as a subject, producing over 1,000 images on the theme by the time of his death in 1917.
The Hands of Rodin: A Tribute to B. Gerald Cantor, an exhibition of some 60 works in bronze and plaster (several of which are unique casts), will be on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from March 27 through June 22, 1997. The exhibition is comprised of important loans from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation and Collection, The Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Maryhill Museum of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Stanford University Libraries. The Hands of Rodin is a nationally touring exhibition that has been organized by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation. The Museum will, during the same dates, present the exhibition Rodin and Michelangelo: A Study in Artistic Inspiration, an exploration of the impact the great Italian Renaissance sculptor had on Rodin, who has, in turn, long been regarded as one of the greatest sculptors of modern times.
"I have always had an intense passion for the expression of the human hands," Rodin explained. "There are times when they succumb to destiny. There are times when they seize the void and, moulding it as a snowball is moulded, hurl it in the face of Fate." The hands sculpted by Rodin are masterpieces of gesture (the intimacy they express in The Kiss, 1886, or the supplication of Saint John the Baptist Preaching, 1878); form (the dramatic, gnarled claw of Large Clenched Right Hand, c. 1885); and, when assembled in combination with other figures, as symbols (The Hand of God, 1898, literally moulding Adam and Eve).
Auguste Rodin was born to a family of modest means in Paris on November 12, 1840. He attended the École Impériale de Dessin and studied drawing at the Gobelins tapestry manufactory, and at age 17 garnered prizes for drawing and modeling. Although he was declined for admission to the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, Rodin gained further training while creating ornamental sculpture for Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a master of decorative arts. In 1876, Rodin traveled to Italy to study the sculptures of Michelangelo, an experience that proved to be of great importance in his development.
Rodin went on to create a body of work that includes a great number of internationally recognized masterpieces, including The Gates of Hell, 1880-c. 1900; The Burghers of Calais, 1884-89; The Monument to Balzac, 1891-97; The Thinker, 1880; and The Kiss, 1886. An entire pavilion was devoted to Rodin at the Paris World Exposition of 1900. In 1916, Rodin donated his entire estate to the French government. The Hôtel Biron, Paris, Rodin's home from 1908 until his death on November 17, 1917, is now the site of the Musée Rodin, a museum dedicated to the great sculptor's work. The combined resources of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, constitute the largest public collection of his work outside Paris.
The Hands of Rodin was conceived by the late B. Gerald Cantor, whose lifelong passion for Rodin's work was sparked in 1945 by his first sight of the marble version of The Hand of God in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Mr. Cantor acquired his own first Rodin, a bronze version of The Hand of God, in 1947, and by the time of his death on July 3, 1996, he and his wife Iris had built the world's largest private collection of works by Rodin. The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation was established in 1978 to promote and encourage the recognition and appreciation of excellence in the arts, to support medical research and to enhance cultural life internationally through the support of art exhibitions, scholarships, and the endowment of galleries at major museums around the world. The Foundation makes significant gifts to endow the new patient facilities, laboratories, and research fellowships at hospitals and medical centers.
The Hands of Rodin: A Tribute to B. Gerald Cantor and Rodin and Michelangelo: A Study in Artistic Inspiration were made possible by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation and the law firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis. Additional support was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions. USAir is the official airline. NBC 10 WCAU is the media sponsor.