Pleasing himself

Peter Campbell

  • Rodin: A Biography by Frederic Grunfeld
    Hutchinson, 738 pp, £30.00, February 1988, ISBN 0 09 170690 4

In his grand old age Rodin became a notorious toucher. One account has it that ‘in the course of a conversation he would embrace every breast and phallus within reach,’ his large hands recapitulating the act of modelling – unless it was modelling that recapitulated touching. Frederic Grunfeld suggests that Rodin’s tactile exploration of the world was in part at least a consequence of his congenital short sight. Whatever the truth of that, the bodies he made were not a product of clinical objectivity, and Pygmalion-like ambiguities concerning the relation of flesh to clay abound. It makes it hard to place him: he had allies among the Impressionists, but his work makes more sense when viewed in a tradition which includes Carpeaux, or even Sargent.

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