AUGUTE RODIN - EARLY YEARS
School settled into a pattern the next few months: mornings were spent at the Petite Ecole; afternoons Auguste and the others were encouraged to visit the Louvre, to study and copy the drawings and engravings of Michelangelo and Rembrandt, to become acquainted with the other masters; and two evenings a week were devoted to drawing from life with a nude model.
Auguste was fascinated by the Louvre - a new universe flowered before his hungry eyes. Fantin-Latour said, "The Louvre is the greatest art school of all," and the blossoming Auguste agreed, for he was seeing for the first time original Leonardos, Titians, Raphaels, Ruben-ses, Rembrandts, and Michelangelos, and he was delighted that he could choose his own masters. The vast gallery of the Louvre was filled
with paintings he liked. Auguste didn't know where to start. He was. attracted by Delacroix's "Dante and Virgil", Leonardo's "Madonna on the Rocks", Raphael's "La Belle Jardiniere", but it was Michelangelo and Rembrandt who were his men. Suddenly tears filled his eyes, he had an overwhelming wish to have better eyesight.
He stood before their drawings and etchings and resolved to remember these as long as he lived. He thought Michelangelo's work vigorous, muscular, and powerful, Rembrandt's rude, jarring, and full of human feeling. He noticed also that Michelangelo's designs were vivid, with rapid lines, that the Florentine often used exaggeration and deliberate distortion, while Rembrandt created his own reality, without drapes, ornaments, or intricate embellishments, but with known faces, known love, using pen, pencil, and crayon to strike with all his might.
Many days he copied or drew from memory, it didn't seem to matter which any more, for he drew equally well either way now. He continned to carry his sketch-book with him everywhere, and he did hundreds of drawings.
He also fell in love with water color and oils in this first real experience with them. Wherever he gazed in the Louvre, his blood raced through his body. He had not known there was such splendor. Everything about the Louvre - the galleries, the students and artists studying, observing, and copying, the constant conversation about art - stimulated him to draw and paint. He had an enormous eagerness to learn and to discover more and more.
Day by day his drawings grew better. Auguste knew he would never know enough about the human body, but he found himself devoting most of his energy to torsos and heads.
"Why don't you come to the painting class?" Lecoq asked one day. "You are about ready for it, Rodin."
Auguste looked up but didn't answer.
"Are you afraid?"
Auguste grew red.
"Oh, you have no paint."
Auguste said hurriedly, "You told us to draw with all our might, that one can never know much about it."
"True, true, but you should start to work seriously with water color and oils. Unless you want to remain just an etcher."
"No, I -" Auguste paused.
"You can't afford paint. Too bad."
"How are my drawings?"
"A little too Rembrandtish, and they smell of the Louvre."
"But you sent me there!"
"1 sent you to the Louvre to use your eyes and hands, and to be independent enough to depend only upon yourself."
"What should I do?"
"Do? You have no paint. We are a free school and the state cannot afford to supply everyone with paint. You will end up an artisan or an ornament maker. Too bad. You draw well."
"I can sketch Michelangelo's figures from memory."
"I know," sighed Lecoq. "I see it in your work. Try to get paint, and I will put you in the painting class and we will see what you can do."
The next day Auguste was moved into this class, to work with pastels, water colors, oils, copying the model or doing an invention of his own - there was complete freedom of method and experimentation - but he could not afford it. He told Aunt Therese about this advancement, and she said she would get paint from Drolling* no matter what, even if she had to steal it. Several days later she handed him a slightly used box of paints.
The colors were beautiful, he thought. In a festive mood he experimented with different colors on the palette, sucking in his breath with pleasure. He had also measured himself this morning and he had reached five feet four, a two-inch gain in the last year - perhaps he should do a portrait of himself, many painters did. He went to look for an empty canvas. He found none that were usable, but finally there was one that could be scraped. He returned with this battered canvas and felt struck dumb. His paints were gone. He looked on his chair, behind his easel, but there was no trace of the precious box of paints. Someone had stolen them. He sat there blinking back his tears. Suddenly the studio was desolate.
Auguste sat there all that night without drawing a line.
The next few painting classes Auguste was able to work occasionally, when he found a tube of paint discarded by a more prosperous student. Only it was rarely a color he needed: the best colors were already squeezed to the last drop, or other students got to the discarded tubes ahead of him. It. became hopeless. Finally he just sat unable to quit, but unable to work. He tried to sketcn, but it was senseless to go on, Papa was right, he was a poor boy who could never be anything but a workman - a cabinetmaker, perhaps, or an ornament worker. There was no alternative. He wiped the tears from his eyes. He could not draw, there was no purpose to it now. He dried his eyes and decided to tear up his drawings. He had them between his hands when Lecoq halted him.
Lecoq insisted on seeing them.
"Don't ask why, idiot!" He had never seen Lecoq so irritated. "I'm the one to decide what's to be done with your drawings!" Lecoq stared at them, not really seeing them, thought Auguste, and said, "I'll keep them."
"Why? - I ..."
"Is that all you can say - why?"
Auguste stood up. "I don't have to stay here."
"No, топ ami, you don't. You don't have to do anything. You don't even have to draw, paint, eat, sleep. But you can't sit here all night and do nothing."
"I can go."
"And give up art?"
"I cannot afford paint or canvas."
"I know." Lecoq saw the boy standing bereaved, ready to ruin his life for the lack of a few sous,* but no, it was more than that, it was a matter of very hard-to-earn francs, the common ailment of the student and the artist, so common no one cared about it. But this boy was one of his best pupils, and he had an enormous eagerness to learn. Lecoq said suddenly, abruptly, "I'll think of something, Rodin. But you cannot just sit here. Go to the modeling room. At least it will keep you occupied."
"Maltre, I don't know anything about sculpture."
"You can learn. You learn very well when you are interested."
"I'm tired." He meant sick at heart, defeated.
"And don't you think I am!" Lecoq shouted. "Do you think you are the first promising student I have lost for a few francs? Teach you what I know, get you to where you can draw a decent line, where you can see for yourself! Go, I can't keep you here!"
Auguste, shaken by Lecoq's emotion, didn't know what to do.
"But Michelangelo was a great sculptor, too. It will not hurt you to learn. And it will help your figure drawing while we find a way to keep you in the painting class. Come on, I will go with you."
Auguste went hesitantly to the sculpture room. He stared at the wet clay, the heavy loads of plaster, terra cotta, and marble, the ladders, the stands, more tools than he could count. Most of it was a world new to him.
Lecoq said, "You are a strong lad, with fine fingers. At least if you don't succeed as an artist you will make a good molder or caster some day."
There were only a few students in the sculpture room, but suddenly Auguste was glad that Lecoq had brought him. He felt drawn to the stone by a force outside himself. There were completed statues, and copies of famous works, and they were so beautiful and potent he wanted to caress them. He felt the clay under his strong fingers and he was full of new sensations. He wanted to shout "I love this!" but he was afraid it would sound sentimental. Yet there was no need to feel handicapped here because he had to strain to see pictures on account of his nearsightedness. Now that was an advantage, for he didn't have to see but feel - the closer he was to the clay the better.
Day after day he found excuses to work in the statuary room. He lost track of time, he forgot about paints and canvases. It seemed to him that this work, unlike the drawing and painting, passed not through his mind but through his body. In spite of the hardness and the coldness of the stone, there was a soft, enticing warmth to it. He was full of a new, unbreakable desire - to hold the stone, carve it, shape it.
(From "Naked Came I" by David Weiss)
*Drolling - the painter Aunt Therese worked for
*sou [su:] - the smallest French coin