My life is pretty challenging, at the moment – principally because of my health (or lack of it…). However, I have found some very effective medicine (although short-lasting – it therefore needs consuming regularly), in the form of the Moore Rodin exhibition, at Compton Verney.
I fell in love with Henry Moore when twenty-eight of his sculptures were shown at Kew Gardens, a few years ago: returning again and again to see them, admire them, interpret them, photograph them, in all weathers and lights. I intend to do the same at Compton Verney – although there are only five of Moore’s works outside, there is the added bonus of six of Rodin’s masterpieces sited in perfect juxtaposition with the more modern sculptures: bringing depth, and a feeling of innate completeness, to the exhibition. (When I get around to it, part two will cover the continuation of the exhibition, inside the house; although I can already heartily recommend both the café and the restaurant for quality of food and service!)
Rodin’s Monument to the Burghers of Calais has always been one of my favourite sculptures – ever since I first came across it, outside the Houses of Parliament, when I was traipsing around London, with my mum, as a child; and Moore himself considered it the greatest work of public sculpture in the city. Even if you do not know the story behind it, it has the power to move you intensely. Once you learn that story, you see more of the subtle detail; understand the profound and sublime range of emotions shown on the characters’ faces, and in their poses; appreciate more the tensions between resignation, hope and fear. Once you learn that story, those sensations will become yours; the figures will live and breathe for you – and it can therefore be overwhelming.
This is, of course, what makes it the chef d’oeuvre it is; and why it is undoubtedly the big draw of the exhibition. If you time your visit right, though – e.g. mid to late afternoon, during the week – you can have it all to yourself; and there will be no-one to see you pretending to have something in your eye; or that your hayfever has somehow suddenly been brought on by an inanimate lump of metal…!
None of the Rodin sculptures will fail to disappoint those who love figurative art. His compassion – as well as his exemplary skill – shines through in each of his works. The Moores, I think, may be more of a challenge, to some.
This is not said snobbishly. Although, overall, I fell for the sculptures at Kew, some took me longer to appreciate, and some left me quite cold. Moore – however much a perfectionist – was something of an experimental artist: and not afraid of failing; of bravely putting something out there that he could then use to evolve his work, to produce something more ‘successful’ in the future.
‘Modern art’ can also take some getting used to: the artist’s ideas often being well ahead of the general population’s, as well as what is seen as acceptable, tasteful, in fashion.
It is somewhat difficult to pick one outstanding piece of Moore’s: as they range so widely in style. Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae certainly has the most impact – especially with its echoes of Rodin’s Burghers – but it is also the most complex of the works; and takes time and patience to grasp (and therefore photograph) all its internal rhythms, symmetries, and contrasts. (In my head, I hear Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring – with its varying tempi and measures; its dissonances; its stresses and pulses.)
It is perhaps Moore’s yearning Upright Motive No.9 that affects me most, though. (Strangely, the Upright Motives at Kew were amongst the ones that least affected me.) There is, in its fluidity and curvaceousness, an expressive soul that – at his height – Moore captures equally as well as Rodin: which is why the juxtapositions and contrasts work so very well – especially between Rodin’s The Fallen Caryatid with Stone and Moore’s Reclining Figure: Bunched, where the echoes, at first obvious, develop complexities that push and pull the two figures together and apart in a tidal bronze ballet.
If I had to choose just one sculpture – that pulls me back even more than the others – it is the bashful Eve, hiding in her woodland grotto (and surrounded, picturesquely, by snowdrops, when I was last there). There is a simplicity to her… – and her gesture of reticence is superbly captured: frozen in a moment you hope may thaw in front of you.
Both sculptors express and draw out movement, emotion, and humanity, superbly, in a medium that should produce the opposite characteristics. If you don’t believe me, I suggest that you visit – preferably more than once – and find out for yourself…!