Rodin Works: The Sphinx, The Succubus, Hecuba Barking


Succube, plaster, Musée Dr. Faure The work presently known as 'The Sphinx' was created already before 1886 and located by Georges Grappe at the top of the left door of 'The Gates of Hell', just below 'The Falling Man'. Around 1889, Rodin developed a very similar character with an altered, mane-like style of the hair, that was to become 'The Succubus' or 'Hecuba barking'.

Confusingly enough, this latter work was exhibited under the same title 'The Sphinx' in the Monet-Rodin exhibition of 1889, together with the original version without the manes, and appeared as 'The Sphinx' again in the 1895 Paris Salon. For the large retrospective exhibition in Rodin's pavillon at the Place d´Alma in 1900, where it was shown again simultaneously with the orginal 'Sphinx', the version with the straigh manes was listed as 'Hecuba Barking'; its present name 'Succubus' was used at the exhibition in Prague in 1902.

As can easily be seen, both works are based on a nearly identical pose of a kneeling woman slightly raising her lower back and stretching her body up and forwards; the head is tilted backwards, which - combined with the opened mouth of 'The Succubus' - evokes the suggestion of 'barking to the moon'. In the group 'The Sirens', which also appear in the 'Gates of Hell', we find a third version kneeling on the left side, with still another shape of the hair - in this version, the open mouth is associated with the seductive singing of the three sisters.

As Elsen points out, the forward impetus of the body not only gave the work a dynamic effect, but also allowed the sculptor to free the volume of the woman's behind from the line of her heels - prompting the German museum curator Alfred Lichtwark to note another observer's remark that "Rodin is nothing but a sculptor of buttocks".

BIBLIOGRAPHY (supplied by The National Gallery of Art, Washington):

Grappe, Georges. Catalogue du Musée Rodin. Paris, 1927: 58. 
Grappe, Georges. Catalogue du Musée Rodin. 5th ed. Paris, 1944: 56. 
Alley, Ronald. Tate Gallery Catalogues. The Foreign Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture. London, 1959: 223-224. 
Hawkins, Jennifer. Rodin Sculptures. London, 1975: 22, figs. 14 and 15. 
Barbier, Nicolle. Marbres de Rodin: collection du musée. Paris, 1987: 102-103. 
Beausire, Alain. Quand Rodin Exposait. Paris, 1988: 104, 117, 123, 135, 194, 253, 327, 367. 
Vilain, Jacques. Claude Monet-Auguste Rodin: Centennaire de l'exposition de 1889. Exh. cat. Musée Rodin, Paris, 1989: 200-201. 
Barbier, Nicolle. Rodin sculpteur: Oeuvres méconnues. Exh. cat. Musée Rodin, Paris, 1992: 119-126. 
Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 201, repro. 
Butler, Ruth, and Suzanne Glover Lindsay, with Alison Luchs, Douglas Lewis, Cynthia J. Mills, and Jeffrey Weidman. European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 338-342, color repro.



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