Auguste Rodin: The Centenary Installation

January 28 – April 9, 2017 | Legion of Honor

SAN FRANCISCO – Marking the centenary of Auguste Rodin’s death in 1917, the Legion of Honor presents a completely new installation of its extraordinary Rodin holdings in Auguste Rodin: The Centenary Installation. Approximately 50 objects in bronze, marble, and plaster—all from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collection—will be presented in a new context. The exhibition will examine the artist’s celebrated life and influential work—from his early days courting controversy with sculptures that bore unexpected levels of naturalism—to his later renown and lasting influence.

Auguste Rodin: The Centenary Installation is part of a worldwide series of major Rodin projects and provides Bay Area audiences a significant opportunity to examine and recontextualize the legacy of the artist known as “the father of modern sculpture.”

“Our Rodin holdings are one of the finest and most significant collections in the United States,” notes Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums. “This exhibition will surprise visitors and inspire dialogue about Rodin and his impact on artists working today. It is a must-see for anyone who thinks there is nothing left to learn about this towering figure in the history of Modern Art.”

Rodin broke the rules of academic training in Paris in the late 19th century, dispensing with traditional aesthetic boundaries to find new vocabularies and create a powerful agenda for sculpture in the modern world. The collection of Rodin sculptures at the Legion of Honor reveals a wide range of the sculptor’s work from his early days in the 1860s and 1870s when he struggled to gain recognition, through years of adverse criticism, to the early 20th century, when he earned international recognition as the artist who liberated sculpture from the academic tradition.

“Although significant collections of Rodin sculptures exist in museums across America and internationally, the collection held at the Legion of Honor is exceptional because of how and when the works were acquired,” says Martin Chapman, curator in charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture for the Fine Arts Museums. “The Spreckels purchased works directly from Rodin’s studio, many of which are the original plaster models, or are works that were cast or carved with the direct supervision of Rodin himself, a distinction not found in many American Rodin collections.”

In 1915, Legion of Honor founders Alma and Adolph Spreckels began assembling what American dancer Loie Fuller called “the greatest collection of perfect Rodins in the world,” and the museum’s holdings include many of the finest pieces made during the artist’s lifetime. Included are some of his most famous works such as The Age of Bronze, Saint John the Baptist Preaching, and The Kiss, as well as pieces relating to Rodin’s most ambitious commissions, The Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell, which included his most famous sculpture, The Thinker—now a beloved, iconic emblem of the Legion of Honor. The museum’s collection is further supplemented by a wide spectrum of plasters, models, and fragments. Together with the bronzes and marbles, the Legion of Honor has one of the most comprehensive Rodin collections in the United States. On the occasion of this exhibition, an extensive scholarly catalogue—the first to document these collection highlights—was produced by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Auguste Rodin: The Centenary Installation is curated by Martin Chapman and will be on view at the Legion of Honor from January 28 – April 9, 2017.

To further commemorate the centenary of Rodin’s death, the Fine Arts Museums have invited artists Urs Fischer (Swiss, 1973) and Sarah Lucas (British, 1962) to conceive installations combining new and existing works in dialogue with the museum’s Rodin holdings. These installations will explore two dimensions of Rodin’s work that often remain underappreciated: the melodrama of mortality that haunts his portrayal of historical figures, such as The Burghers of Calais and Dante’s Inferno, and his palpable eroticism, only barely veiled by mythological and religious subject matter, in works such as Christ and the Magdalene. “Rodin’s naturalist conception of the body and his embrace of the fragment as a motif in its own right deeply influenced the trajectory of modern sculpture,” says Claudia Schmuckli, curator in charge of Contemporary Art and Programming for the Fine Arts Museums. “We are thrilled that Fischer and Lucas have agreed to consider their work in this context and bring a contemporary perspective to our understanding of Rodin’s work and legacy.”

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, are the largest public arts institution in San Francisco. The Legion of Honor was inspired by the French pavilion at San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 and, like that structure, was modeled after the neoclassical Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. The museum, designed by George Applegarth, opened in 1924 on a bluff in Lincoln Park overlooking the Golden Gate. Its holdings span 4,000 years and include European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West.