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Great London Sculptures: The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin in Victoria Tower Gardens

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Visitors to the Houses of Parliament, often ignore the Victoria Tower Gardens nearby. The gardens offer some wonderful riverfront views and have pieces of art to admire. One of the largest and most prestigious is The Burghers of Calais, by French sculptor, Auguste Rodin.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Appropriately, considering it is within the shadow of the Houses of Parliament it represents the idea of freedom from oppression. The sculpture is based on an incident during the Hundred Years War, Calais had been surrounded for a year by English soldiers under King Edward III when in 1347, six leading citizens of Calais, the Burghers, offered to die if Edward spared the rest of the town’s people.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

It was this moment of heroic self-sacrifice that Rodin captures in his sculpture. In the end, an intervention by Edward’s wife, Queen Philippa pleaded on the Burghers behalf and they and the people of Calais were allowed to leave.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Rodin was commissioned to undertake this work of art in the 1880s and his original sculpture was completed in 1889 and took pride of place outside Calais town hall. Rodin later made a number of casts, this one was bought by the National Art Collection Fund in 1911 and the artist himself came to London to give advice on where the sculpture should be erected.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

This particular sculpture was cast in 1908, installed in 1914 and unveiled in 1915. Over the last century, the sculpture is considered to be one of Rodin greatest works and further casts have been installed in museums and art galleries all over the world.

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Exhibition Review : Rodin and the art of ancient Greece at the British Museum – 26th April to 29th July 2018

Auguste Rodin is considered one of the greatest sculptors of the modern era and the British Museum presents an exhibition entitled Rodin and the art of ancient Greece which explores in detail the influence of the art of antiquity, particularly that of ancient Greece on the artist. The exhibition explores the influence on Rodin by the works of the fifth-century BC sculptor Pheidias who is known as the artist who conceived the Parthenon sculptures and the role of the British Museum in Rodin’s later works.

The exhibition will feature over 80 works in marble, bronze and plaster, alongside some of Rodin’s sketches. By showing Rodin’s work alongside the Parthenon sculptures that inspired him, the exhibition hopes to illustrate the connection between the two and provide new insights into the sculptures of the artist.

The exhibition design takes inspiration from Rodin’s home and studio in Meudon outside Paris, and is surprisingly open and airy with the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery filled with natural light at both ends of the space for the first time since it opened in 2014. The unusual open plan design allows visitors to walk around many of the works and view from a variety of angles.  

The exhibition opens with a direct comparison between Rodin and Greek sculpture with one of Rodin’s famous work The Kiss (1882), next to the tangled limbs of two female goddesses, originally on the East Pediment of the Parthenon. This copy of The Kiss is a plaster cast of the first marble example and it became the version which Rodin would display in exhibitions and from which others were copied.

Over his life Rodin built up a collection of over 6,000 antiquities and in 1900 he built a museum at Meudon to house his growing collection. His love of the sculptures of ancient Greece led him to visit the Louvre and the British Museum to study the Parthenon sculptures.

Walking around the exhibition it is often difficult to distinguish between Rodin’s work and the Greek sculptures because Rodin often used chop off the heads and limbs from his own sculptures in order to make them more like the archaeological ruins of the past.

If there are similarities, there are also differences, Rodin never sculpted copies of the Parthenon figures instead he used them as inspiration for his own original works. Some of Rodin’s most famous works are featured including The Thinker, The Age of Bronze, The Burghers of Calais, The Walking Man, The Man with the Broken Nose and many more. One of the more unusual sculptures is Pallas (Athena) which has the Parthenon balanced on the woman’s head.

The inclusion of some of the Parthenon Sculptures is fascinating not only in comparison of Rodin’s work but allowing visitors to view the sculptures in detail. When you look closely it is often the fluidity of movement and flowing lines that are the most impressive and one can understand the artist’s fascination with them.

This intriguing exhibition explores how Rodin’s interest in Greek Sculpture bought him to the British Museum many times and created a connection with the sculptures and the museum that forms the basis of the show.

In some ways, it is strange that these connections are not more widely known, however many people have been more interested to present Rodin as a modern sculptor rather that seeing his connections to the more classical period. This exhibition provides an unusual and unique opportunity to view  Rodin’s artistic work from new angles, the Parthenon Sculptures connected Rodin to the past but enabled him to create original works that looked to the future.

Visiting London Guide Rating –  Highly Recommended

For more information or to book tickets, visit the British Museum website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here