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Image courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
|A Reclining Female Nude, Arms Folded over Her Head, ca. 1910
Graphite on thin smooth white wove paper
30.3 x 19.9 cm
Bequeathed by Mrs. H.H. Turner, 1959
During the last two decades of his life, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) produced many drawings of rapid and energetic lines, mainly nudes, often explicitly erotic figures. The swiftness of the lines and the spontaneous effect all suggest the intimate and personal nature of the drawings. Only a few of them are dated, and these are frequently related to dedications rather than the actual dates of execution, and can only be taken as termini ante quem.
For the Ashmolean drawing Reclining Female Nude, Arms folded over her Head, Rodin added the inscription in 1910 when he presented the drawing to Mrs. Daisy Turner, who later bequeathed it to the Ashmolean collection in 1959.
Rodin made many drawings in watercolors and cut-offs (or cut-and-pastes). The Ashmolean drawing is executed simply in graphite, but the fact that white ‘wove’ paper, which is heavier, more resistant, and slightly rougher in surface than other papers, was chosen as the support suggests the possibility that watercolors could have been applied later at any moment. Mrs. Daisy Turner was the wife of Professor H. H. Turner, who was a Fellows of New College, Oxford. Rodin must have met the couple for the first time when he stayed with William Spooner, Warden of New College at the time he received his honorary degree from the University of Oxford in 1907. The year 1910 in the Ashmolean drawing suggests that he remained in contact with the Turners for years.
The figure in Reclining Female Nude, Arms folded over her Head must have been drawn in repose. But by turning the sheet upside down, the woman in the drawing looks as if she is falling or engaged in an acrobatic pose. If turned again to posit her head on the right side, she can be seen as lying down on her side or again, falling. Even though Rodin chose one direction and signed in the lower corner, it is not easy to accept only one way to see at the drawing because of its instability. Eventually, the figure makes viewers uncomfortable. In this sense, Rodin’s Reclining Female Nude, Arms folded over her Head can also be interpreted in the same way that Rodin did not specified a definite orientation of his sculptural figures by repetitively using then in various directions. He wanted to make the work decide for itself.
It is said that Rodin hated his model striking a pose. As in this Ashmolean nude, most of his figure drawings are very quickly produced to catch the moment of action and to show the body in movement and natural immediacy.
Rodin’s drawing has an intimate and personal quality, free from any apparent categorical styles or conventions of the period. It is essentially a contour life drawing, which almost looks like childs’ scrawl. As Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in 1902, “(Rodin) never (took) his eyes away from the model and with his swift, experienced hand entirely abandoned to the paper…,” it is generally understood that Rodin’s drawings were produced without looking at the paper, but only at the model. Graphite pencil, made of a crystalline form of carbon, was an indispensable tool in such production. Given that no interruption was required, the carbon could be used until the artist was finished. Rodin saw his objects in lines rather than in masses. The result looks like a scribble at first glance, but every line is actually a part of the body. Reworked lines may temper original distortions, but the continuous initial strokes are evident. Toes are in careless lines and hair is almost smudged, but the body possesses reasonable proportions. Even the ankle bones are not omitted. What appears to be a hastily drawn figure demonstrates Rodin’s economy of lines.
Although Victoria Thornson has once noted that the figures with arms behind the head as such in this drawing are “flaunting the body,” it is worth point out that the model has a somewhat androgynous look. The model may not have been a man, but the subject nonetheless turned away from the viewer and the posture had virtually erased sexual attributes. The lines of her thighs and buttocks also reveal a muscular body. Thus, it might be possible to place this drawing as one of Rodin’s Hermaphrodite figures.