Fun project and end of the year indulgence for no one else but the artist. So liberating! I know, I know, we are supposed to always do that, but exterior influences and worries do intrude our decisions, whether we like it or not. So, I say, artist, make a piece once in a while that pleases you! Throw away inhibitions, formal and practical, and make a piece that you would not under normal circumstances. Free yourself, free the art!
Her name was Caira and she was 82 years old. She had just been told she had cancer and she only had a few months to live. She wanted to see her son one last time, so she traveled to Paris from Italy. Her son was a model to sculptor Jules Desbois, who had expressed interest in modelling her. The model persuaded his mother to pose for Desbois.
This is all the information I could find on the elderly model. And her name, Caira. She must have been a very brave woman to pose in the nude at her advanced age – more than a century ago! Was it love for her child that made her take the clothes off her weathered body? We can only guess at her motivation, but the fact is she inspired three wonderful sculptors to create work based on her: Desbois, friend and assistant to Auguste Rodin, Rodin himself, and Camille Claudel, Rodin’s assistant, model and lover.
Desbois was the first sculptor to model her in terra cotta (Rodin had started working with her around the same time). His work is titled “La Misere” (Misery).
How could “Misery” leave anyone unmoved? One feels inclined to throw away those rags, cover her in a blanket and tell her she will be alright. Desbois’ approach provokes a strong emotional response.
Rodin’s version, “She Who Was The Helmetmaker’s Once-Beautiful Wife” later became part of his monument, The Gates of Hell. His focus is on the physical appearance of the model. The work bluntly shows her exposed and aware of the ravages of time. And time is more cruel to women than men. “There is nothing ugly in art except that which is without character, that is to say, that which offers no outer or inner truth”, said Rodin. He finds inner beauty in this woman – in her vulnerability and dignity even as she resigns herself to fate.
photo credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art
The most shocking, and the most original of the tree sculptures is Camille Claudel’s version of the model. Incredibly, in spite of the prevailing academic tastes in stylistic approaches of the era, this groundbreaking sculpture was well received at the Paris Salon.
Claudel envisions Caira as Clotho, one of the Fates, who spins the thread of destiny. Clotho is usually depicted as a young girl in the visual arts, but Camille chooses to show her as an old woman entangled in her thread. Her relationship with Rodin was falling apart around the same time she was working on Clotho, which explains her preoccupation with destiny.
The old woman resurfaced later as death in her most important work, The Age of Maturity.
Photo by Ch.Baraja
What a wonderful gesture from this old woman, Caira, to trigger such powerful response by not one, but three great sculptors!
Looks like I am starting another series, but hey, we artists love variety! The new series will be about the nine muses. I will contemporarize them according to my taste, but I will keep in mind also that they need to inspire me and the audience alike in spirit. The emphasis will be on form (gowns and hairstyles that don’t aim for any historical or stylistic categorization) and surface treatment, whether texture or colour, or both. The figures will be larger than most of my sculptures, between 30 and 36 inches.
Here is Euterpe, the muse of lyric poetry, which includes music, dance and song. In ancient Greece she was usually depicted with a flute, which is the perfect instrument for me, considering my son plays the flute. I used his flute for reference at his insistence that it had
to look like his own, very realistic! Thus, I ended up including more detail than originally planned. In all my figures I will try to keep in mind that these ladies are half human, half otherworldly divine creatures, so will have to be idealized.
The purple colour sort of bewildered me at first, but I have gotten used to it, and wouldn’t have her in any other way!
Last weekend, while reading an art history book, I came across a familiar face dubbed “The Thinker”. No, it wasn’t Michelangelo’s Lorenzo de Medici lost in thought, and it wasn’t Rodin’s famous sculpture either. It was the original, Neolithic version of “The Thinker”. When was the last time I had seen it? It must have been in grade 5 history class that I became acquainted with it, and never thought about it ever since. And now there he was, in all his glory, looking back at me in the company of another piece called “Seated Woman”.
“Is this couple so famous that it became part of art history books?”I marveled. I was very impressed!
The two clay statuettes were found in Cernavoda, Romania, in 1956, in a tomb near the river Danube. They originate from the Hamangia culture, an early farming society emerging in the sixth millennium B.C. They were found among other similar but headless figurines. There is no unanimous agreement on the age of the artifacts, various sources dating them somewhere between 2500 B.C. and 6000 B.C.
There are plenty of other statuettes from the Neolithic, but none of what I’ve seen display the high degree of care for form, gesture and emotional involvement. These figurines are clearly the work of an artist.
The woman is depicted in a casual way, sitting with arms resting on one knee. Her robust thighs and hips follow the usual Neolithic approach to femininity (i.e. abundance and fertility), but the well defined hands are positioned softly and gently on the knee. The portrayal of the woman is executed with sensibility and subtlety uncharacteristic to that age.
Can it get any better than this? It sure can! The maker shows even more concern for the male figure.
He is seated on a meticulously modelled and realistic stool. Lost in thought, his facial expression and suggestive gesture show anguish and worry. The artist made a conscious effort to articulate his subject’s state of mind. If the statuettes were to be used for nothing but religious ritualistic purposes, he would have not bothered with that. I suspect he made the figures for his own pleasure, like all artists do. The heavily stylized anatomy and facial expression look very contemporary to our eyes. The Thinker’s arresting presence conveys that perhaps what we are witnessing is one of the beginning moments of art where a personal aesthetic and independent thought take priority over the generalized tastes of the collective. And what a huge leap is that for humanity! Thousands of years of progress follow, a lengthy but steady evolution, until art arrives back to where it had started. I keep thinking that Brancusi himself could have carved these figures! Art has indeed come full circle…
This novelty is a Romanian coin dedicated to The Thinker:
The picture below demonstrates the draw of these statuettes even in the present day. Artists and artisans are inspired by the mastery of these figures. These are contemporary copies of the sculptures.
And lastly, this is my sculpture inspired by these two figurines, titled “Evolution”. For more pictures follow the link: https://erikatakacs.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/evolution-new-sculpture/