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Drawings by Auguste Rodin

November 10, 1990–February 17, 1991

To honor the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great French Romantic sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents an exhibition of drawings by Rodin from November 10, 1990 through February 17, 1991. Philadelphia is fortunate in being the repository of a major collection of works by Rodin (second only to that of the Musée Rodin in Paris) which was formed by the movie-theater mogul and philanthropist Jules Mastbaum. Between 1923 and his death in 1926, Mastbaum bought a highly representative selection of Rodin's sculpture as well as numerous drawings, books, documents, and other materials related to the artist. This collection was donated to the city of Philadelphia and is principally housed on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the Rodin Museum, which is administered by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Because of the fragility and sensitivity to light of works on paper these drawings are rarely on display. Because of Rodin's peculiar use of drawn studies in his working methods, the dating of his graphic art is difficult. Sketching continually from his student days onward, he produced close to 8000 drawings, usually figure studies, during his lifetime, many of which he retained and later reworked, traced, or cut out and reassembled. Few of his drawings are dated or relate to dated sculptures, and most of his major sculptural projects were not preceded by drawn studies in the traditional sense. Rodin's drawing style up through the 1880s was based more in imagination and inspiration from literature (such as Dante's Inferno, the subject of The Gates of Hell) than visual observation. His subject matter tends toward the mythological, heroic, or tragic, with many sheets representing figures struggling or in conflict. Works of this period, the so-called "black" drawings, often have heavy masses of shadow executed in dark washes with dense, opaque grey and white gouache heightening. The late drawings, on the other hand, are light, spontaneous, fluid studies of the nude in random poses drawn from life, often contorted and acrobatic. Executed in pencil with fine, wiry contours and usually finished with light, transparent washes, they are free and casual, conveying the artist's almost playful enjoyment of capturing the human form in motion. It requires an experienced connoisseur of Rodin drawings to distinguish the artist's work from that of his forgers (it has been suggested that as many as sixty percent of Rodin drawings still in private hands are forgeries). As part of the exhibition the Museum has displayed a number of known forgeries with attributions, where possible, to the principal imitators of Rodin drawings.

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Ann Percy

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