Alberto Giacometti dans le parc d’Eugène Rudier au Vésinet, posant à côté des Bourgeois de Calais de Rodin [Alberto Giacometti in Eugène Rudier’s park in Vésinet posing next to Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais], 1950Photography: Patricia Matisse, Fondation Giacometti, Paris. Photograph: Fondation Giacometti, Paris.

MADRID - Despite being separated by more than a generation, and taking inevitable differences into account, the artistic careers of Auguste Rodin (Paris, 1840 - Meudon, 1917) and Alberto Giacometti (Borgonovo, Switzerland, 1901 - Coira, Switzerland, 1966) reveal significant parallels that are presented for the first time in this joint exhibition at Fundación MAPFRE’s Sala Recoletos. In addition to a shared interest in a number of formal aspects, including working with the material, an emphasis on modelling, a concern for the sculptural base and for fragmentation and distortion, the dialogue established between the two artists’ work extends much further. Rodin was one of the first sculptors to be considered “modern” due to his ability to reflect universal concepts such as anguish, suffering, anxiety, fear and anger, conveyed firstly through the expressivity of the face and gesture and later in his career by his focus on the essential. This was also a fundamental characteristic of Giacometti’s art; his works created after World War II, with their elongated, fragile and static figures that Jean Genet described as “the guardians of the dead”, are stripped of any inessential element in order to convey all the complexity of human existence.

Rodin was undoubtedly the great master of the 19th century and almost no other modern sculptor can be seen to have achieved his stature. During the early-avant-garde period, however, numerous artists moved away from the direction he pursued in order to invent a more modern and freer language that differed from his, which they considered traditional in many ways. Despite admiring Rodin from an early age - as revealed in his numerous drawings that copy his works which he made in the books on Rodin that he owned and kept all his life - Giacometti rejected the older French artist and turned to the new sculptors, including Ossip Zadkine, Jacques Lipchitz and Henri Laurens. After this brief “Neo-Cubist” period he affiliated himself with Surrealism and created complex compositions of a notably symbolic content. However, from 1935 onwards the human figure was once again the centre of Giacometti’s work and through it he defined the aesthetic for which he is fundamentally known and which he would fully define in the years after World War II. 

By aspiring to an art that referred to reality but without renouncing the personal affirmation characteristic of a modern artist, Giacometti rapidly encountered the art of Rodin, above all due to the issue of the tactile which had been fundamental for the latter as through it and its associated expressivity Rodin was able to convey emotions and human passions. In the case of Giacometti, this aspect generated an unprecedented experimental process, which he pursued to the end of his career. During its course, this resulted in the formulation of devices such as leaving his fingerprints visible on the material, which thus becomes a seemingly living substance, in contrast to the type of sculpture that he had produced alongside the Cubist and Surrealist sculptors with its extremely smooth surfaces. Another issue is the importance conceded to the base, which for Giacometti became an essential part of the composition and thus brought him close to Rodin’s art of assemblage. In addition, the two artists shared an interest in classical antiquity that took shape in their respective oeuvres in the free interpretation of models from the past, either whole or fragmentary. 

In 1922 Giacometti complied with his father’s wishes and went to Paris to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière where Antoine Bourdelle, a former student and assistant of Rodin, gave classes. Five years had passed since Rodin’s death. From 1890 onwards and particularly following his exhibition at the Pavillon d’Alma in 1900, Rodin had been considered one of the most important artists of the day. The year 1939 saw the unveiling, forty years after its completion, of his Monument to Balzac, an event attended by Giacometti not only in order to see a work that he must have already known but also in order to testify to the reputation of an artist who had come to be seen as a “genius of modern sculpture”. Years later, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Giacometti’s interest in Rodin revived, as evident in the photographs taken at Le Vésinet, the park belonging to Rudier who was caster to both artists. Giacometti posed alongside Rodin’s L’Âge d’Airain [The Age of Bronze] and walked between the figures in the Monument des Bourgeois de Calais [Monument to the Burghers of Calais]. In his own words, he felt himself to be “in a magnificent museum of contemporary sculpture”. 

The selection of works in this exhibition is conceived as an ongoing conversation between the two artists’ work in space, presented in nine sections. It reveals how, in the periods in which they lived, both men formulated ways of approaching the figure which reflected a new and personal vision but one rooted in its time: in Rodin’s case, that of the world prior to World War I, and in Giacometti’s the inter-war period and the years immediately after World War II, characterised by disillusionment and Existentialism. 

The exhibition comprises includes than 200 works and is structured into nine thematic sections.

Auguste Rodin was one of the first sculptors to move towards reality in his work, in a reflection of his opinion that “beauty only resides where there is truth”. In order to locate sculpture in the world of reality, which is complex and variable rather than static and frozen, Rodin formulated his so-called “technique of profiles”. Rather than working on his sculptures from a single position and with a preeminent viewpoint, he made sketches from all possible angles, moving around the model. When he transferred that movement to the work it was not always understood. In 1885 the City Council of Calais commissioned a monument from the artist to commemorate the heroic act of a group of citizens who offered themselves as hostages to Edward III of England following a lengthy siege of the city in 1347 during the Hundred Years War. Rodin designed the monument as six independent figures, which he then assembled with the aim of retaining each element’s separate identity while also maintaining the vision of the whole. By breaking away from tradition - as rather than presenting a single figure he sculpted a group of six men moving as individuals toward their tragic fate - the sculpture was not well received and was not unveiled until 1895, six years after it was completed.


Auguste Rodin, Monument des Bourgeois de Calais [Monument to the Burghers of Calais], 1889 (modern copy). Plâtre, 231 × 248 × 200 cm, Musée Rodin, Paris. Photograph: © musée Rodin (photography: Christian Baraja)


Alberto Giacometti, La Clairière [The Clearing], 1950. Bronze, 61 × 66 × 53 cm, Fondation Giacometti, Paris. Photograph: Fondation Giacometti, Paris © Alberto Giacometti Estate / VEGAP, 2020 

In the late 1940s Giacometti focused on the issue of sculptural groups, undoubtedly due to the influence of Rodin’s Monument to the Burghers of Calais. Works such as La Place (Composition avec trois figures et une tête) [The Square (Composition with three figures and a head)], Quatre femmes sur socle [Four women on a pedestal] and La Clairière [The Clearing], all of 1950, reveal how he took the idea of the group to its essential expression. By 1932 he had already produced a work entitled Projet pour une place [Project for a square], which would culminate years later in 1956 with the commission for a sculptural group for the esplanade in front of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, initially conceived as a group of three figures. At the same time, these smaller groups reflect Giacometti’s interest throughout his career in understanding the paradox of the solitude of the individual in the crowd. 

The creative use of chance or accident was one of Rodin’s most important contributions to modern sculpture, as evident in Homme au nez cassé [Man with a broken Nose] of 1864. Rather than rejecting pieces of fragmented material and chance outcomes during the process of modelling he rescued them and included them in the creative process and in the final work, thus giving the sculpture a different meaning. From 1890 onwards Rodin reworked sculptures made at earlier dates, eliminating parts of them with the aim of emphasising their expressivity and highlighting those accidents. Errors in modelling and the absence of fragments are evident in Torse masculin penché en avant [Male Torso leaning forward] of ca. 1890 and also in the small version of La Terre, petit modèle [The Earth, small model] of 1893-94. 


Auguste Rodin, Homme au nez cassé [Hombre de la nariz rota], 1864. Terracota, stamping, 22,3 × 19,1 × 15,8 cm, Musée Rodin, París, inv. S.01863. Photo: © agence photographique du musée Rodin - Jerome Manoukian

This is also evident in the fracture present in Giacometti’s Tête d’homme [Man’s Head] of ca. 1936 and in the cracks of the eyes and the “gash” that forms the mouth in Tête de Diego [Diego’s Head] of 1934-41. Giacometti seems to have returned to that aspect characteristic of Rodin’s work and reflected on it, modifying its significance or possibly giving it a fuller meaning. The fact that Giacometti kept numerous fragments of his works in his studio also confirms this interest in accident on his part, aware that fragmented objects can acquire a life and beauty of their own which they would not possess if they were complete. 


Alberto Giacometti, Tête de Diego [Head of Diego], c. 1950. Plâtre, 9,7 × 5,1 × 6,6 cm, Fondation Giacometti, París. Photo: Fondation Giacometti, París © Alberto Giacometti Estate / VEGAP, 2020

Following the Cubist experiments and Surrealist period, in his quest for “figures and heads seen in perspective” Giacometti increasingly pared down his sculptures to the point where he produced the type of work for which he became best known. At this point his characteristic elongated figures replaced his earlier, technically perfect works and the manipulation of the material and modelling became the key feature of his sculptures. This was also the case for Rodin, who sometimes allowed the clay to remain visible beneath the bronze, revealing an energetic, dynamic modelling that paradoxically achieves the expression of human fragility. This is evident in works such as Eustache de Saint Pierre of ca. 1885-86 and the different draperies produced for the figure of Balzac.


Auguste Rodin, Eustache de Saint-Pierre, ca. 1885-86. Plâtre, 98 × 35 × 37 cm, Musée Rodin, Paris. Rodin Donation, 1916. Photograph: © agence photographique du musée Rodin - Pauline Hisbacq 

Fragility was also one of the key elements in Giacometti’s vision of his work. Figure debout [Standing Figure] of 1958, which is highly modelled, seems to be worn away almost to the point of disappearing, resulting in an image that suggests a short-lived existence. This is also the case with Petit buste de Silvio [Small Bust of Silvio] of 1944-55, which is reduced to “the size of a pin”, and the plaster Buste de Diego [Bust of Diego] of 1965-66 which shows not only Giacometti’s fingerprints but also the incisions made by his  nails on the surface. 


Alberto Giacometti, Figure debout [Standing Figure], 1958. Plâtre, 63,2 × 12,3 × 20,2 cm, Fondation Giacometti, Paris. Photograph: Fondation Giacometti, Paris © Alberto Giacometti Estate / VEGAP, 2020 

Rodin’s quest for expressivity is characterised by the emphasis that he introduced into the faces of his figures, on occasions tending towards caricature. Modelling and assemblage coexist with faces that are distorted in a search for expressive impact. This is evident in Tête de la Muse tragique [Head of the tragic Muse] of 1895 and in the different versions of Le Cri [The Cry].


Auguste Rodin, Tête de la luxure, grand modèle [Cabeza de la lujuria, modelo grande], 1907. Plâtre, 37,8 × 30,2 × 28,3 cm, Musée Rodin, París, inv. S.01825. Photo: © musée Rodin (photo Christian Baraja)

Giacometti’s case is slightly different as distortion did not arise from that quest for expressivity, or not entirely. After World War II his sculptures became increasingly thin and elongated and sometimes very small in size. As the artist himself indicated, this was how he really saw his motifs. In 1960 he wrote: “I no longer know who I am, where I am, I don’t see myself any more, I think my face must be perceived as a vague weak, whiteish mass [...]. The figures are nothing more than continual movement towards the interior or towards the exterior. They constantly remake themselves, they have no real substance, it’s their transparent side. The heads are neither cubes nor cylinders nor spheres nor triangles. They are a mass in movement, [appearance], changing form and never completely comprehensible.” It is perhaps that incomprehension of reality which generates sculptures such as Le Nez [The Nose] of 1947-50 and Grande tête mince [Large thin Head] of 1954.


Alberto Giacometti, Le Nez [The Nose]. Plâtre, 43 × 9,7 × 23 cm, Fondation Giacometti, Paris. Photograph: Fondation Giacometti, Paris © Alberto Giacometti Estate / VEGAP, 2020.

Rodin’s relationship with ancient art dated back to his years of study at the École Spéciale de Dessin, his visits to the Louvre where he copied the Old Masters and his trip to Italy in 1875. The time he spent in Florence, where he discovered Michelangelo, was crucial, as was the period spent in Rome where he looked at classical sculpture. This is reflected, for example, in his male torsos and in the forms of La Méditation sans bras, petit modèle [Meditation without arms, small model] of 1904, a work that looks back to ancient Greece. 

Between 1912 and 1913, Giacometti started to copy Dürer, Rembrandt and Van Eyck from illustrations in his father’s books. He continued this practice in the Louvre where he dedicated considerable time to copying, particularly Egyptian sculpture. He also travelled to Italy and in 1920 was in Venice with his father where he was fascinated by Tintoretto’s colours and the mosaics in the basilica of San Marco, also recording that he was “moved” by Giotto’s frescoes in Padua. At the Musée de l’Homme in Paris he encountered Oceanic, African and Cycladic art and incorporated all these lessons into his work. The numerous drawings in which Giacometti copied works from these different cultures are good examples of this assimilation. He described this fusion in the following words: “All the art of the past presented itself to me, of all ages, of all civilisations; everything becomes simultaneous, as if space had taken the place of time.” 


Auguste Rodin, Torse de l’Etude pour Saint Jean Baptiste, dit Torse de l’Homme qui marche [Torso of the Study for Saint John the Baptist, known as Torso of the walking Man]1878-79 (cast in 1979). Bronze, lost wax casting, 51,5 × 25,5 × 15 cm, Musée Rodin, Paris. Cast made for the museum’s collection in 1979. Photograph: © musée Rodin (photography: Christian Baraja) 


Alberto Giacometti, Femme (plate V) [Woman (flat V)], ca. 1929. Bronze, 55,5 × 33,6 × 7,7 cm, Fondation Giacometti, Paris. Photograph: Fondation Giacometti, Paris © Alberto Giacometti Estate / VEGAP, 2020.


Alberto Giacometti, D’après des sculptures grecques (Vénus accroupie, diadumène) [Copies of Greek sculptures (crouched (Venus agachada, Diadumenos)], after 1962. pen and ink on paper, 27 × 21 cm, Fondation Giacometti, París. Photo: Fondation Giacometti, París © Alberto Giacometti Estate / VEGAP, 2020

With both Rodin and Giacometti the process of repeating a motif was an habitual practice. Firstly, this offered a way to delve further into the study of the depicted model and his or her psychology, and secondly repetition allowed them to transform the work, which seemed to resist being finished. During this process the meaning of the final work was also transformed; while starting from the specific, it generally ended by reflecting universal aspects of existence. 

This innovation in sculptural process - never seeing the work as finished - was one of the aspects that most interested the two artists. In 1957 Giacometti observed in this regard: “No sculpture ousts another one. A sculpture isn’t an object, it’s an interrogation, a question, a response. It can’t be finished or perfect. The issue doesn’t even arise. For Michelangelo with the Rondanini Pietà, his last sculpture, everything starts again. And for a thousand years Michelangelo could have sculpted Pietàs without ever repeating himself, without looking back, without ever finishing anything, always going further. Rodin as well.”

Rodin produced an exceptionally large number of drawings and studies for his portraits of Balzac and Victor Hugo, as he did for those of his companion Camille Claudel. This was also the case with his portrait of the Japanese dancer Hanako whom he met in Marseilles in 1906 and whose expressive features so impressed him, giving rise to around 58 sculptures of her.


Auguste Rodin, Balzac, buste souriant (dit parfois d’après Lassalle), agrandissement [Balzac, smiling bust (sometimes called «according Lassalle»), extension], c. 1899 (cast in 1998). Bronze, sand casting, 73,3 × 31,8 × 38,5 cm, Musée Rodin, París. Cast made for the museum’s collection, 1998, inv. S.05770. Photo: © musée Rodin (photo Christian Baraja)

Similarly celebrated are Giacometti’s portrait series which he created from 1935 onwards and subsequently in the post-war period. His brother Diego and the professional model Rita Gueyfier were among the models who posed for him every day in his studio where the artist focused on his intention of capturing “the real”. With this aim in mind Giacometti constantly returned to the images of his sitters, erasing them when he was not satisfied and redoing them again and again.


Alberto Giacometti, Buste d’Annette (dit Venise) [Bust of Annette (called Venice)], 1962. Bronze, 46,2 × 26,5 × 16,2, Fondation Giacometti, París. Photo: Fondation Giacometti, París © Alberto Giacometti Estate / VEGAP, 2020

The integration of the base and the sculpted motif is one of the principal issues in modern sculpture. By creating sculptural groups with individualised figures such as The Burghers of Calais, Rodin confronted this issue and considered the different solutions offered by the base in order to establish a greater or smaller distance between the work and the viewer. It would appear that with the Burghers Rodin initially intended to avoid placing the figures on a base as he wanted to install them on the actual pavement, although he was finally obliged to locate his work on a low base. However, with this original idea Rodin anticipated one of the fundamental characteristics of 20th-century sculpture, as eliminating the base of the Burghers would have placed the viewer and the hostages walking towards their deaths on the same level; in other words, integrating sculpture into the real world and stripping it of its aura of intangibility.


Auguste Rodin. Assemblage: Femme-Poisson et Torse d’Iris pedestal sur gaine à rinceaux [Assemblage: Woman-Fish and Torso of Iris on a plinth with foliage], After 1890. Plâtre, pink patina (stipe), 157 × 35 × 38 cm, Musée Rodin, Paris. Rodin Donation, 1916. Photograph: © musée Rodin (photography: Christian Baraja)

At the opening of the Pavillon de l’Alma in 1900 Rodin mounted his works on a series of columns from the Louvre, generating different effects in the installation of the exhibition. This is the case with Sphinge sur colonne [Sphinx on a column] and Pied gauche sur gaine à rinceaux et cannelures [Left Foot on a striated column base with foliage]. La Pensée [Thought] offers a different solution and an innovative manner of using the pedestal as a large base from which the figure’s head emerges. In this sense the contrast generated by the treatment of the surface, together with the manner of joining the fragment to the base, functions as an allegory. 

In Giacometti’s work the pedestal is the equivalent to the frames that he used in his paintings and drawings and also functions in the same way as the “cages” that he introduced into some of his sculptures. It constitutes more than just as a way to isolate the figure and create distance from the viewer. A small figure on a very high or very wide base seems even smaller when viewed from a distance. He also used pedestals of different sizes in other ways, for example to generate a dialogue between the base and the figure. 


Alberto Giacometti, Petit buste sur colonne [Small bust over column], 1951-1952. Bronze, 152,2 × 21,2 × 22,6 cm, Fondation Giacometti, París. Photo : Fondation Giacometti, París © Alberto Giacometti Estate / VEGAP, 2020

Giacometti’s numerous drawings of works by Rodin reveal the importance of this discipline in his creative process. In a number of his various books on Rodin he copied L’Homme qui marche [The walking Man] - a work created in 1907 from a smaller version of Saint John the Baptist - next to photographs of different sculptures by Rodin, as if reflecting on the subject in order to later incorporate this subject into his own work. The versions of The walking Man produced by both artists are undoubtedly some of the most celebrated and best known creations of world sculpture and it is clear that Giacometti took Rodin as his starting point for this subject. The same is the case with the sculpture L’homme qui chavire [The falling Man] and the different versions of that theme that he produced from the late 1940s onwards.


Auguste Rodin. L’Homme qui marche, grand modèle [The walking Man, large model], 1907. Plâtre, 219 × 160 × 73,5 cm, Musée Rodin, Paris, inv. S.05716. Photograph: © musée Rodin (photograph: Hervé Lewandowski)

Compared to Rodin’s figure, Giacometti’s The falling Man seems worn and fragile, although Rodin’s work also transmits enormous expressivity and through it a profound sense of human fragility. Aside from the differences, however, through their use of this subject both artists focused on one of the essential issues in sculpture: how to keep the material standing; how to build it up. These are questions that come together in a reflection on the human being and our ability not to fall down, both literally and metaphorically, and in this sense the work becomes a metaphor of humanity. While Giacometti’s Walking Man is seemingly the triumphant one who remains standing in the face of all the circumstances of life, The falling Man is a metaphor of the precariousness of human existence: two faces of the same coin, two questions and two answers for future generations.


Alberto Giacometti, Homme qui marche II [Walking Man II], 1960. Plâtre, 188,5 × 29,1 × 111,2 cm, Fondation Giacometti, Paris. Photograph: Fondation Giacometti, Paris © Alberto Giacometti Estate / VEGAP, 2020

Rodin made use of photography in his work from the late 1870s until his death in 1917. In general, however, neither he nor Giacometti took photographs themselves, preferring to leave this to others.

The artist at work, the artist and his model, the work in the process of creation and the disorder of the studio are frequently the subjects of the images taken of the two artists. These photographs also reveal similarities in their collections and studios: “cells, poor, empty rooms full of dust and greyness” as Rainer Maria Rilke wrote with regard to Rodin. Giacometti’s studio must have been quite similar as according to Jean Genet: “[...] his entire person has the grey colour of a studio. Out of sympathy, perhaps, he has acquired the grey colour of the dust.” 

At the outset of Rodin’s career when he was still unknown to the art world the artist in the same studio, Charles Aubry, who specialised in studies of plants from life, produced a series of photographic portraits of him in which Rodin is starting to grow a beard. It was not until the late 1870s, by which time he was 40, that his name began to appear in the specialist press and became known in Parisian studios following the scandals provoked by L’Âge d’Airain [The Bronze Age] and La Porte de l’Enfer [The Gates of Hell]. After employing a series of professional photographers Rodin realised the importance of disseminating his work and above all of controlling that dissemination. He thus decided to contract Eugène Druet, an amateur photographer who worked free of charge. After this arrangement came to an end, in 1903 Rodin worked with the photographer and publisher Jacques-Ernest Bulloz who was already producing colour carbon photographic prints based on the use of blue, green, sepia and orange pigments. 


Rodin accoudé à une selette à côté du monument à Victor Hugo [Rodin eaning on a bench next to the monument to Victor Hugo], c. 1898. Photograph: Dornac [Pol Marsan / pseudonyms of Paul Cardon], Musée Rodin, París. Donation Rodin 1916, inv. Ph.00206. Photo: © musée Rodin

The first photographs of Giacometti’s work were taken in the context of the Surrealists and the artistic circles that he moved in. The Surrealists tended to express and debate their ideas in magazines and journals and Giacometti published works in some of these publications, including Cahiers d’Art. Later on, photographs of him in his studio became essential to him, as if that space were a continuation of his own person. Giacometti always had his studio in Paris on rue Hippolyte-Maindron. He returned there after the war, having spent the latter part of it in Switzerland, and created a type of microcosm that was captured on numerous occasions by photographers such as Ernest Scheidegger, Alexander Liberman, Brassaï and his New York dealer Pierre Matisse. 


Alberto Giacometti travaillant dans son atelier, Paris [Alberto Giacometti atwork in his workshop, París], 1955. Photograph: Isaku Yanaihara, Fondation Giacometti, ParísPhoto : Fondation Giacometti, París. Photo by Isaku Yanaihara/ © Suki Yanaihara/ Permission granted through Misuzu Shobo, Ltd. Tokyo

To accompany the exhibition Fundación MAPFRE has produced a catalogue which includes reproductions of all the works on display, in addition to essays by the curators, Catherine Chevillot, director of the Musée Rodin, and Catherine Grenier, director of the Fondation Giacometti in Paris, and by the associate curator, Hugo Daniel, director of the École des Modernités at the Institut Giacometti. This publication, which will become an essential reference point for the study of the relationship between the two artists, also includes texts by leading specialists such as Sophie Biass-Fabiani, head of graphic art, painting and contemporary art at the Musée Rodin, and Hélène Pinet, former head of the photography collection at that museum. The catalogue also includes a documentary appendix, a selection of writings by the two artists and their respective chronologies.

6 February to 10 May 2020