LONDON – Lucian Freud and Auguste Rodin’s renditions of the human body reveal their revolutionary approach to both form and material, creating figurative art that verged on the abstract. As Rodin’s Iris and Freud’s Pregnant Girl appear in the auctions of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art respectively, Helena Newman and Oliver Barker joined Mark Brown of The Guardian to discuss the two artists.
LUCIAN FREUD WITH HIS CAST OF RODIN'S IRIS, MESSENGER OF THE GODS, 1890–1891. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID DAWSON, 2010 / BRIDGEMAN IMAGES.
Helena Newman: It is interesting to look at these two great works together. You can see common elements in the visceral power of their treatment of the human form.
Ollie Barker: Absolutely. Lucian Freud actually owned a similar Rodin sculpture. He probably bought it in the 1990s and towards the end of his life it sat at the end of his bed. It would have been one of the first things he saw as he woke – and it’s visible in one of David Dawson’s photographs. Lucian collected widely and it’s interesting to see his visual vocabulary. He owned everything from Cézanne to Corot, Rodin, and, obviously, his peers such as Bacon and Auerbach. He was always interested in expressive figurative art.
Mark Brown: The fact that it was the first thing he saw every morning is such a deliberate act.
OB: He also had a Balzac figure by Rodin on a table in his kitchen. So, arguably in the two areas outside of his studio where he spent the most amount of time – Rodin had a critical presence.
HN: I think Freud saw an extraordinary resonance in Rodin’s treatment of the human form, of flesh and muscle. Particularly in Iris where she’s floating in the air – it’s incredibly audacious and powerful. Rodin conceived this work in 1881, but even 80 years on it still seems entirely contemporary.
OB: The Freud is full of visual ambiguity, and specific to Pregnant Girl is this sense of looking at the human body afresh, almost as a landscape. The sheer abstraction of some Rodin’s sculptures is something that Lucian found inspiring. There is also an ambiguity in the pose that both artists loved.
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION, LUCIAN FREUD, PREGNANT GIRL, 1960–1961. ESTIMATE: £7–10 MILLION.
MB: The Rodin is extremely daring isn’t it?
HN: Very daring. We’re all familiar with Rodin’s icons like The Thinker, Eve, L'Éternel printemps, The Kiss, but this piece is experimental in its form and its impact. It’s also incredibly rare and so less well known. The majority of these lifetime casts are in museums, there are only two remaining in private hands.
AUGUSTE RODIN, IRIS, MESSENGER OF THE GODS, 1890–91. ESTIMATE: £6–8 MILLION.
MB: Is it too base to say both works are about sex and desire?
HN: That’s a huge element. Seeing them together you see how both artists have harnessed that, each in their own way, to create this incredible depiction of flesh – with Rodin you can feel how he makes the hard bronze incredibly malleable.
OB: The other thing they have in common is clearly the male gaze on the female body, and an accompanying sense of male control over a female subject. Pregnant Girl doesn’t tell you much about the woman and the fact she’s pregnant. She becomes a device for his artistic intentions.
HN: It’s a good point – in the Rodin there’s no head at all and in the Freud the head is turned away. They are actually taking out the personality, and this aerial perspective is common to both. It’s this domination and almost a sort of reduction to the flesh and muscle and bone.
Read Mark Brown's full story in The Guardian.
Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
Exhibtion: 29 January–3 February
Auction: 3 February | London
Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Exhibition: 29 January–3 February and 6–10 February
Auction: 10 February | London