Going behind the scenes: Constable nudes on show with Rodin's The Kiss at Ipswich
PUBLISHED: 19:00 26 November 2018 | UPDATED: 10:21 27 November 2018
Rodin's erotic classic The Kiss is making a rare trip out of London and has taken up residence in Christchurch Mansion.
Rodin’s classic erotic sculpture The Kiss is grabbing the attention of visitors to Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich along with a wall of unseen nude studies by John Constable and works by Picasso and Michelangelo, as Arts editor Andrew Clarke discovered. It’s a dramatic, sensual exhibition, called Kiss and Tell: Rodin and Suffolk Sculpture, pulled together by curator Emma Roodhouse from Ipswich Borough’s collection augmented with loans from Tate Britain, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and the Norwich Castle Museum.
Benjamin Britten’s The Red House has also loaned a Rodin sculpture while Maggi Hambling supplied a disgruntled-looking bust of local artist and teacher Bernard Reynolds.
Work by Reynolds and colleague Colin Moss, both mainstays of the highly regarded Ipswich Art School, are also featured in the wide-ranging exhibition which features over 100 pieces exploring the human body.
This major exhibition focuses on the story behind The Kiss. Who were the entwined lovers? How many versions did Rodin create? Why was the sculpture covered up for so long?
Curator Emma Roodhouse said that the rare appearance of this sensual 19th century sculpture outside London would be a jumping off point to examine other images and works of sculpture dealing with desire, love and devotion.
All the work in the exhibition have been created by Rodin or works inspired by Rodin or by artists who had some connection with the sculptor.
Emma said that the exhibition had given her the opportunity to rummage around in the archive and uncover long forgotten treasures buried under canvas, such as sculptures by Thomas Woolner, or have the borough’s collection of John Constable’s life drawings framed and put on display for the first time.
“It’s a high quality show which shows how artists have been inspired by the human form and by tales of love and devotion over the centuries.
“Auguste Rodin’s marble lovers depicted in The Kiss are taken from Dante’s Inferno from The Divine Comedy. This is a monumental artwork and is a significant piece in the history of sculpture.
“The Kiss and The Thinker are two of his most famous works and both were originally incorporated into ‘The Gates of Hell’, a monumental piece commissioned to be the entrance for a Decorative Arts Museum, which was never built. Rodin later took many of the figures included in The Gates of Hell and made them into works of art of their own.”
She said that Rodin created three versions of The Kiss. One resides in Copenhagen, another in Paris but the largest is the one owned by The Tate and currently on display in Ipswich. The English version was commissioned in 1900 by American collector Edward Perry Warren, who lived in Lewes, Sussex. When delivered the work was too large to fit into his house so he donated it to the local town hall. However, in 1914, when troops were billeted in the town hall it was covered over with sacking as the sculpture was considered too risqué and may inflame soldiers’ desires.
“The sculpture was scandalous when it was first unveiled because the woman was not passive. She was an active participant in the scene, she was leaning into the man and encouraging him.”
After the war the work was considered too racy for public exhibition and was returned to Warren and it was stored in his stables until bought by The Tate in the early 1950s.
The Michelangelo cast was also uncovered by Emma during a search of the borough’s archives. Dating from the late 19th century, the Victorian cast was broken but the original moulds remained and permission was gained from the Royal Academy in London, who have the original work, to take a new cast of the complete frieze.
The wall of Constable nudes dominate the far end of the gallery. These delicate drawings, created during the early part of Constable’s career, demonstrate the importance of life drawing. These ethereal pencil sketches are bookended by nudes from Bernard Reynolds and Colin Moss as well as a pen and ink drawing of a Minotaur by Picasso.
Sculptures and wall friezes by Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner and Ellen Mary Rope as well as illustrations by William Blake and a bust by Suffolk artist Maggi Hambling complete the spectacular show.
In addition to the exhibition itself there will be a number of artist-led workshops including drawing the figure, a Rodin study day and the curator’s introduction tour.
Kiss & Tell: Rodin and Suffolk Sculpture runs until April 28 at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich.