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Description de l’éditeur

Not far from Paris, on the Seine, near Meudon, is a hamlet bearing the delightful name of Val-Fleury. Crowning the little hill above this village rises a group of buildings which in their charm and originality at once attract interest. You might almost guess that they belonged to an artist, and it is there, in fact, that Auguste Rodin has made his home.

Approaching, you find that the main buildings are three. The first, a Louis XIII. pavilion of red brick and freestone with a high-gabled roof, serves as his dwelling. Close by stands a great rotunda, entered through a columned portico, which is the one that in 1900 sheltered the special exhibition of Rodin’s work at the angle of the Pont de l’Alma in Paris; as it pleased him, he had it reerected


upon this new site and uses it as his atelier. A little further on at the edge of the hill, which here falls steeply away, you see an eighteenth-century château—or rather only a façade—whose fine portal, under a triangular pediment, frames a wrought-iron gate; of this, more later.

This group, so diverse in character, is set in the midst of an idyllic orchard. The spot is certainly one of the most enchanting in the environs of Paris. Nature has done much for it, and the sculptor who settled here has beautified it with all the embellishments that his taste could suggest.

Last year, at the close of a beautiful day in May, as I walked with Auguste Rodin beneath the trees that shade his charming hill, I confided to him my wish to write, from his dictation, his ideas upon Art.

“You are an odd fellow,” he said. “So you are still interested in Art! It is an interest that is out-of-date.

“To-day, artists and those who love artists seem like fossils. Imagine a megatherium or a diplodocus stalking the streets of Paris! There you have the impression that we must make upon our contemporaries. Ours is an epoch of engineers and of manufacturers, not one of artists.

“The search in modern life is for utility; the endeavor is to improve existence materially. Every day, science invents new processes for the feeding, clothing, or transportation of man; she manufactures cheaply inferior products in order to give adulterated luxuries to the greatest number—though it is true that she has also made real improvements in all that ministers to our daily wants. But it is no longer a question of spirit, of thought, of dreams. Art is dead.

“Art is contemplation. It is the pleasure of the mind which searches into nature and which there divines the spirit by which Nature herself is animated. It is the joy of the intellect which sees clearly into the Universe and which recreates it, with conscientious vision. Art is the most sublime 


mission of man, since it is the expression of thought seeking to understand the world and to make it understood.

“But to-day, mankind believes itself able to do without Art. It does not wish to meditate, to contemplate, to dream; it wishes to enjoy physically. The heights and the depths of truth are indifferent to it; it is content to satisfy its bodily appetites. Mankind to-day is brutish—it is not the stuff of which artists are made.

“Art, moreover, is taste. It is the reflection of the artist’s heart upon all the objects that he creates. It is the smile of the human soul upon the house and upon the furnishing. It is the charm of thought and of sentiment embodied in all that is of use to man. But how many of our contemporaries feel the necessity of taste in house or furnishing? Formerly, in old France, Art was everywhere. The smallest bourgeois, even the peasant, made use only of articles which pleased the eye. Their chairs, their tables, their pitchers and their pots were beautiful. To-day Art is banished from daily life. People say that the useful need not be beautiful. All is ugly, all is made in haste and without grace by stupid machines. The artist is regarded as an antagonist. Ah, my dear Gsell, you wish to jot down an artist’s musings. Let me look at you! You really are an extraordinary man!”

“I know,” I said, “that Art is the least concern of our epoch. But I trust that this book may be a protest against the ideas of to-day. I trust that your voice may awaken our contemporaries and help them to understand the crime they commit in losing the best part of our national inheritance—an intense love of Art and Beauty.”

“May the gods hear you!” Rodin answered.

We were walking along the rotunda which serves as the atelier. There under the peristyle many charming bits of antique sculpture have found shelter. A little vestal, half-veiled, faces a grave 


orator wrapped in his toga, while not far from them a cupid rides triumphant upon a great sea-monster. In the midst of these figures two Corinthian columns of charming grace raise their shafts of rose-colored marble. The collection here of these precious fragments shows the devotion of my host to the art of Greece and Rome.

Two swans were drowsing upon the bank of a deep pool. As we passed they unwound their long necks and hissed with anger. Their savageness prompted me to the remark that this bird lacks intelligence, but Rodin replied, laughing:

“They have that of line, and that is enough!”

As we strolled on, small cylindrical altars in marble, carved with garlands, appeared here and there in the shade. Beneath a bower, clothed with the luxuriant green of a sophora, a young Mithra without a head sacrificed a sacred bull. At a green crossway an Eros slept upon his lion-skin, sleep having overcome him who tames the beasts.

“Does it not seem to you,” Rodin asked, “that verdure is the most appropriate setting for antique sculpture? This little drowsy Eros—would you not say that he is the god of the garden? His dimpled flesh is brother to this transparent and luxuriant foliage. The Greek artists loved nature so well that their works bathe in it as in their element.”

Let us notice this attitude of mind. We place statues in a garden to beautify the garden. Rodin places them there that they may be beautified by the garden. For him, Nature is always the sovereign mistress and the infinite perfection.

A Greek amphora, in rose-colored clay, which in all probability had lain for centuries under the sea, so encrusted is it with charming sea-growths, lies upon the ground at the foot of a box-tree. It seems to have been forgotten there, and yet it could not have been presented to our eyes with more grace—for what is natural is the supreme of taste.

Further on we see a torso of Venus. The 


breasts are hidden by a handkerchief knotted behind the back. Involuntarily one thinks of some Tartuffe who, prompted by false modesty, has felt it his duty to conceal these charms.

“Par de pareils objêts les âmes sont blessées

Et cela fait venir de coupables pensées.”

But surely my host has nothing in common with Molière’s prude. He himself explained his reason.

“I tied that around the breast of this statue,” he said, “because that part is less beautiful than the rest.”

Then, through a door which he unbolted, he led me on to the terrace where he has raised the eighteenth-century façade of which I have spoken.

Seen close to, this noble fragment of architecture is imposing. It is a fine portal raised upon eight steps. On the pediment, which is supported by columns, Themis surrounded by Loves is carved.

“Formerly,” said my host, “this beautiful château rose on the slope of a neighboring hill at Issy. I often admired it as I passed. But the land speculators bought it and tore it down.” As he spoke his eyes flashed with anger. “You cannot imagine,” he continued, “what horror seized me when I saw this crime committed. To tear down this glorious building! It affected me as much as though these criminals had mangled the fair body of a virgin before my eyes!”

Rodin spoke these words in a tone of deep devotion. You felt that the firm white body of the young girl was to him the masterpiece of creation, the marvel of marvels!

He continued:

“I asked the sacrilegious rascals not to scatter the materials and to sell them to me. They consented. I had all the stones brought here to put them together again as well as I could. Unfortunately, as you see, I have as yet raised only one wall.”

In fact, in his impatience to enjoy this keen artistic pleasure, Rodin has not followed the usual 


and logical method which consists in raising all parts of a building at once. Up to the present time he has rebuilt only one side of the château, and when you approach to look through the iron entrance gate, you see only broken ground where lines of stones indicate the plan of the building to be. Truly a château of dreams! An artist’s château!

“Verily,” murmured my host, “those old architects were great men, especially when one compares them with their unworthy successors of to-day!”

So speaking, he drew me to a point on the terrace from which the outline of the façade seemed to him most beautiful.

“See,” he cried, “how harmoniously the silhouette cuts the silvery sky, and how it dominates the valley which lies below us.”

Lost in ecstasy, his loving gaze enveloped this monument of a day that is past and all the landscape.

rom the height on which we stood our eyes took in an immense expanse. There, below, the Seine, mirroring long lines of tall poplars, traces a great loop of silver as it rushes towards the solid bridge at Sèvres.... Still further, the white spire of Saint-Cloud against a green hillside, the blue heights of Suresnes and Mont Valerian seem powdered with a mist of dreams.

To the right, Paris, gigantic Paris, spreads away to the horizon her great seed plot, sown with innumerable houses, so small in the distance that one might hold them in the palm of one’s hand. Paris, vision at once monstrous and sublime, colossal crucible wherein bubbles unceasingly that strange mixture of pains and pleasures, of active forces and of fevered ideals!

Paul Gsell.

Arts et spectacles
4 juillet
Rectory Print

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