Rodin & Eros
By Pascal Bonafoux
Thames & Hudson, 2013
At the start of this beautiful, lavishly illustrated book, the author quotes Gide on the difference between pornography and erotic art or literature.
For many critics and learned commentators, erotic art and literature (so defined) is quite different to porn. It has a moral purpose, a higher intellectual intent; it doesn’t appeal simply to the prurient interest. Yet Gide is admirably clear-sighted and straightforward, not to say surgical, when it comes to making the distinction: for him the difference is simply one of talent. And there is an end to it. If someone is a lech, and a great artist as well, they will create great erotic art. A lesser talent will have to be content with the pornographer tag.
Rodin was much enamoured with young women; the female form was an obsession and a fascination, an overriding passion, as Pascal Bonafoux’s book makes plain. He has written 42 essays about the artist (a sampling of titles: Beauty, Flesh, Desire, Venus, Lust, Sin…), some light and brief but all unfailingly interesting, and there are 156 Illustrations, 140 of them in colour. Most essays are centred on a particular work, and collectively they cover a period of about 40 years (1871-1911), for Rodin was always working, sketching even at the last. We learn some interesting things: for example, that The Kiss (1899) was inspired by Dante; that Rodin saw Nijinsky dance; of his affinity with Baudelaire, Mirbeau and Flaubert.
The illustrations include drawings and watercolours (some intended solely for Rodin’s private portfolio, whatever that means: for a French fellow, Pascal Bonafoux can be awfully coy) as well as many excellent photos of the great sculptures, the bronzes with their dark fiery gleam. What happens most in the sculptures? Man and woman, faun and nymph, human and immortal embrace, hold each other close. They embrace. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about Rodin, in truth: Eros was his daemon.
There is a Rodin Museum, something I hadn’t previously been aware of.
The publisher’s description of Rodin & Eros can be read here.