True Nature

Story and Photos by Emily Lee Stehle
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Rodin and the Age of Impressionism

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Through March 26
Museum of Fine Arts
Details here

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This remarkable exhibit in the Hazel Hough Wing showcases Auguste Rodin’s best-known sculptures alongside other Impressionist masterworks from artists of his time. Close to 70 artworks, dozens of sculptures, paintings, photos and works on paper from the 19th century are displayed throughout the gallery.

Stanton Thomas, the Museum of Fine Art’s Senior Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, says the exhibit – drawn from the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – offers a comprehensive look at Rodin’s influential and revolutionary life as an artist.

The Prodigal Son, first modeled c. 1884/94-99, this cast, 1967, Bronze

“I am so proud to showcase St. Petersburg’s first major exhibition devoted to Rodin and the Impressionists. True Nature is a transformative exploration of one of the most popular, enduring and captivating periods in art history,” says Thomas.

It took two years of planning during COVID-19 to bring the sculptures to St. Petersburg – delivered in separate crates by forklift, raised and mounted.

Jean de Fiennes, Draped, first modeled 1885-86, this cast, 1987, Bronze

Personally, I have loved the work of Impressionist painters since I took French in elementary school. I really became acquainted with their works and avidly studied them during college art history courses.

Claude Monet, Nympheas, c. 1897-98, Oil on Canvas

As an 11-year-old, the work of the Impressionists was appealing, swathed in pastels and shimmering colors evoking dreamy and romantic images, unlike the work of realistic painters.

Revolutionaries of the time, the Impressionists “depicted the natural appearances of objects by means of dabs or strokes of primary unmixed colors in order to simulate actual reflected light,” as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Whatever the reason, my husband and I both find their work fascinating, particularly the subject matter and the studies of light.

A view of the wallpaper in one of the galleries. This was unexpected and an interesting wall treatment.

We like to hunt down works by these artists at art museums we visit, stateside and abroad. While in Paris, during two visits 20+ years ago, we planned multiple visits to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay to see works by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Renoir, Rousseau, etc. and in our travels, came across Musée Rodin at 79 rue de Varenne.

Rodin’s Studio was in a garden, full of light – large sculptures of the human form, stone pieces, plaster and tools. The room was extremely dusty, and it was hard for me to breathe. Outside, I remember, there were roses and their special scent. And The Thinker.

So, seeing this exhibit with Rodin’s sculptures surrounded by other favorite artists’ works inside was a completely new experience. I have a greater appreciation of this man’s work after seeing the contrast and similarities between his and the other Impressionists’ art.

The Earth, first modeled c. 1884-99, this cast, c. 1967, Bronze

Rodin’s sculptures appeared immense, somewhat crude, foreboding, tortured, yet they captured lifelike movement and energy of the human form. They illustrated pain, angst, suffering and also beauty.

His dramatic approaches to the human figures were best known through large, public commissions, explains Thomas, and received both praise and criticism.

Thomas says the features on the faces and hands are pronounced and distorted to enhance the idea of emotion, the height of emotions. The larger-than-life figures are oversized to emphasize human strength and frailty.

The Shade, first modeled c. 1880, this cast, 1969, Bronze
Eternal Spring, first modeled c. 1881-84, cast later

This piece was one of six figures included in the commissioned Burghers of Calais, a monumental public sculpture which commemorates six men who sacrificed themselves to save their city during the Hundred Years’ War.

Nude Study for Jean d’Aire, first modeled c. 1884-86, this cast, 1972, Bronze
Monumental Head of Jean D’Aire, first modeled 1884-86, this cast, 1971, Bronze

Smaller pieces show a more delicate, precise hand.

Fugitive Love, first modeled 1880s, this cast, 1969, Bronze
Minotaur or Faun and Nymph, c. 1886, Bronze

Critics said the works appeared unfinished and Rodin’s approach was not traditional. Supporters praised his creative quest to capture life-like movement and energy.
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“I obey nature, I never presume to command her.” – Auguste Rodin

Also on view, sculpture by Rodin’s contemporaries, including Edgar Degas’s Aràbesque first modeled c. 1890-95, Grand Aràbesque first modeled c. 1885-90 and Horse with Jockey first modeled c. 1885-90

Rodin was surrounded by painters employing a variety of stylistic approaches (Naturalism, Symbolism, Impressionism) and he developed lasting friendships and rivalries with them, collecting their work as well.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Landscape, c. 1890-1900, Oil on Canvas

The seriousness and heaviness of Rodin’s sculptures in the exhibit are offset by other sculptures and paintings created by Impressionist artists he worked and exhibited with throughout his career.

Alfred Sisley, Saint Mammès-Morning, 1884, Oil on Canvas
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vase of Roses, c. 1890-1900, Oil on Canvas

Among Rodin’s most famous works presented, this small sculpture was shown alongside the Paris World’s Fair in 1900. Look at the upraised hands – they form the shape of a heart.

Invocation, first modeled c. 1900, this cast, 1986, Bronze

Also, the stories of Orpheus and Eve.

Orpheus (detail), first modeled c. 1890-1900, this cast, 1969, Bronze
Orpheus (detail)
Eve, first modeled c. 1881, this cast, 1968, Bronze


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Over the course of his career, Rodin continuously, laboriously worked to render a satisfactory likeness of the human form. He embodied the spirit of the creative tortured genius, consistent in his quest to convey more character, emotion, strength, suffering, pathos and beauty in his work.

Heroic Bust of Victor Hugo
Victor Hugo, 1884, Drypoint

Impressionist Paintings
by Rodin’s Contemporaries

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You enter the exhibit through a beautiful range of paintings by well-known Impressionists.

Camille Pissarro, La Place du Théâtre Français, 1898, Oil on Canvas
Claude Monet, In the Woods at Giverny: Blanche Hoschedé with Suzanne Hoschedé Reading, 1887, Oil on Canvas
Paul Cézanne, Boy with a Straw Hat, 1896, Oil on Canvas
Eugène Carriére, Portrait of a Woman, 1897, Oil on Canvas
Maurice Denis, Motif Romanesque, 1890, Oil on Canvas
Pierre Bonnard, Le Pont du Carrousel à Paris, c. 1903, Oil on Canvas
Paul Gauguin, The Field of Derout-Lollichon, 1886, Oil on Canvas

“. . . The artist penetrates below the surface into the very heart of nature;
for him everything is beautiful because beauty in art consists of character.” – Auguste Rodin

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Through March 26
Museum of Fine Arts
255 Beach Drive NE
St. Petersburg, FL   33701
10 am-5 pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
10 am-8 pm Thursday
noon-5 pm Sunday


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