Kiss and Tell – Rodin at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich

I invent nothing, I rediscover – Rodin.

Check out this great little exhibition in Ipswich, which has Rodin’s The Kiss at its centre and retells the story of the tortured lovers depicted so famously in white marble by the master of 3-D sorcery. There are also works by several other important artists from William Blake to Maggi Hambling.

Who are the lovers? They are the doomed couple from Dante’s poem The Divine Comedy – Francesca and Paolo – trapped in the second circle of Hell, reserved for the lustful, savouring a last kiss before eternal separation… or perhaps their lips never meeting before the end. So not a happy theme, but intensely passionate and controversial at the time in the choice of subject matter.

Leaving the rough hewn block as an integral plinth adds grounded power to the mythical theme as well as incredible contrast of texture to the delicacy of the smooth flesh – two worlds meet in the finger-tips of slowly released tension as the two figures slip apart.

Connections to Rodin by several other artists

The clash of the classical western view with the so-called primitive African view is brought into focus here – by juxtaposing the pure white rather anodyne plaster figure of an idealised woman with the rougher hewn wooden image of the Spirit Wife from the Baule peoples of the Cote D’ivoire.

Comparing the relative poses of the two, I am moved more by the slight stoop of the African figure than by the graceful arch of the pale one. There seems to be a sophisticated understatement here of connections to another way of seeing life – beyond the merely physical. And there’s a warmth of inclusivity here not present in the classical presentation to the viewer.

Young learners enjoying the exhibition

The show contains several works by Rodin and is a thoughtfully curated re-thinking of the power of his work, centred around the towering force of The Kiss. For me, Rodin’s work is great partly because it transcends cultural barriers and communicates human passion very directly – it has more in common with the African Spirit Wife than with much classical Greek or Renaissance statuary. The codes of human passion are universally understood and are best communicated through subtlety and weight rather than dramatic whimsy.

The exhibition continues until 28 April 2019, free entry.

The Kiss, Rodin, white marble

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