5- 1900, The Alma exhibition

For Rodin, the last decade of the 19th century was a complicated period: on a personal level, it marked the end of his relationship with Camille Claudel; on a professional level, it was a time of intensive activity as he struggled to complete the monuments to Balzac and Victor Hugo. In overcoming these hurdles, he established himself as France’s greatest living sculptor, a position he sought to demonstrate on the occasion of the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900, the year he turned 60.

With the backing of his friends, he had a large pavilion erected on the Place de l’Alma, where he presented a retrospective exhibition of his entire career, featuring drawings, sculptures and photographs of his works. This was the event at which he first exhibited his Gates of Hell, in a version stripped of most of its figures. The plaster sculptures literally dominated the exhibition, and Rodin readily put his unfinished and fragmentary works on show, to give visitors a clearer idea of his working method.

Marie Fenaille - © Musée Rodin - Picture : Christian Baraja

The manner in which he arranged his works in this exhibition was both highly unconventional and inventive. He mounted several groups and figures on plaster columns, so as to set them apart and let them be seen from a fresh perspective. The Bust of Madame Fenaille was one such case, her garment spilling over the plinth on which the bust had been placed. Another example was the small equestrian statue of General Lynch, a maquette for a monument destined never to be unveiled. By placing it on a column, and thus changing the relationship between sculpture and plinth in terms of scale, Rodin gave the work a whole new life.