Musings on Rodin's drawings
By Ellie Lerman
Rodin solidified his role as a canonical sculptor in the early 20th century, with seminal works such as ‘Age of Bronze’ and ‘Walking Man’. His contorted, visceral sculptures allow the viewer a peek into his creative process of sculpting in which he defiantly leaves finger marks, fissures, and unmoulded bronze and presents them as finished works (something that was not accepted in the 19th century tradition of the smooth, ‘licked’ marbles of Canova and the Neoclassicists). While his sculptures explore human anatomy with the traditions of classical antiquity in mind, Rodin’s drawings are preoccupied with a different kind of human anatomy: female genitalia.
In his erotic drawing ‘Before the Creation’ (1900), Rodin focuses on a woman’s vulva exposed by her outspread thighs. Her face is anonymous, assumed to be the least important detail but carefully drawn so as her open mouth mimics the vulva at the foreground of the picture. The flat, green abstract background dislocates the scene, flinging the female subject into empty space allowing her to be recognised and related to universally. The title alludes to the Biblical story of the creation of the world in which Eve is tempted to eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Rodin has reinterpreted this biblical story with an erotic twist, presenting Eve - the first woman - as a highly sexualised being brought to sin out of sexual longing. With this in mind, one can either celebrate Rodin’s presentation of female lust as commonplace among all women, or reprimand his male gaze and objectification of the female body.