Rodin Works: the fallen angel, Illusions received by the Earth

marble in Lille. Photo: Eros, Cat. 11'The Fallen Angel' is one example of Rodin's typical use of the technique of marcottage - the construction of figures or groups from pre-existing elements.

Around 1895, Rodin produced this combination of 'The Caryatid' with the female figure of 'Eternal Springtime', which was in turn derived from 'Torso of Adèle', the female version of the twin Triton torsos Rodin designed for the Villa Neptune in Nice in 1879.

P. P. Rubens, 'Der Engelssturz', Alte Pinakothek, MünchenLike for 'Christ and Mary Magdalene', we can discern different strands of meaning:

'Chûte des anges', the fall of the rebellious angels led by Lucifer was a motif presented by many Christian artists. The Cleveland Museum, Ohio, owns a marble group by Rodin actually called 'The Fall of the Angels' [Spear, 1967, Plate 88]. In 'The Fallen Angel', Rodin has switched from plural to singular, and so changes the emotional impact of the composition: this gentle winged creature, separated from Lucifer's crowd, looks virginlike, innocent, as if dropped from heaven by some regrettable accident. Whereas Breughel and Rubens depict their fallen angels as if The  Fall of the Angels, marble, Cleveland. Spear, Plate 88 they had been satanic creatures from the very start, Rodin's 'Fallen Angel' commands our admiration by her celestial beauty and languid sensuality. After his early confrontation with Father Eymard, who refused to accept the bust Rodin had made of him, the sulptor had been very sceptical of Catholic beliefs; like Charles Baudelaire, Octave Mirbeau and Félicien Rops, he was rather enthrilled by the eternally restless powers of evil, mysterious, seductive and dangerous - like  'The Sin' portrayed by Franz von Stuck, the sensation at the exhibition of the Munich Secession in 1893. In 'Fallen Angel', though, the veil of darkness is replaced by the exuberant flow of blonde hair and the translucent quality of white marble. Like in 'The Kiss', where a nude Francesca took over the active role traditionally assigned to Paolo, Rodin in this work ignores moralistic and literary default settings in order to immerse himself  in the soft splendour of lines and light.

The later titles 'Illusions received by the Earth' and 'The Fall of Icarus' evidently imply an association with 'The Fall of Illusion, Sister of Icarus', in another version equally named 'The Fall of Icarus', featuring the winged 'Martyr'. This connection confirms 'The Fallen Angel' deals with failed revolt, sympathising with the courage to try and realise grand ideals, even when this quest proves to be based on illusion.

In Rodin's assemblage of a crouching with a reclining figure, the caressing embrace provides the element of consolation, denied to his isolated winged 'Martyr' in 'Fall of Icarus' and his lonely 'Prodigal Son' (1886), but movingly present in 'Christ and Mary Magadalene', created around 1893-94 and executed in marble as well. 

marble, LilleAs has been amply  discussed with regard to 'Christ and Mary Magdalen', Rodin had to swallow a series of serious setbacks during the 1890's: the rejection of his 'Monument to Victor Hugo' in 1890, the vehement critique of his Monument to Claude Lorraine in Nancy in June 1892, the flaring crisis in his relationships with Rose and Camille , a dissatifying installation of 'The Burghers of Calais' in 1895. The rejection of his 'Balzac' in 1898 was only the summit of a longer series of bitter disappointments. To the sculptor, adopting the role of the misunderstood genius, creating both 'Christ and Mary Magdalene'  and 'Illusion, received by the Earth' must have meant comfort to his hurt feelings.

If we abstract from religious, mythological/allegorical and auto-biographical associations, the group shows the bodies of two women intimately entwined, as already explored in 'Damned women', in several variations and under different names, like 'The Metamorphoses of Ovid', 'Bacchantes embracing', etc. Such titles made these representations more acceptable to the public, so that Michelle Facos with regard to 'The Fallen Angel' speaks of a "crypto-lesbian theme". We will find this subject again in Rodin's later erotic drawings, this time without any mythological or literary pretext.

Bronze, Alexis Rudier, Aix-les-bains, hand reaching across bossomAfter unwinged bronze casts had been made from earlier plaster versions, the composition was adapted again and executed in marble. According to Elsen, it was only at this stage that the wings were added, while the base was enlarged so that the legs of the angel would meet structural support. Referring to the example in Lille, Daniel Rosenfeld describes how Rodin's praticiens left parts of the marble block with a  roughened surface while the figures were polished in Fin-de-Siècle manner; different types of chisels were employed to reach the desired effect.  

Based on these successful marble carvings, presenting the group - originally a marcottage - as if made 'in one piece', new bronze casts were made by the Alexis Rudier Foundry. At least one bronze cast was derived from a marble carving that - according to Elsen - was made for the Hunterian Art Gallery.

marble, LilleThe main difference between these versions is the way the crouching woman holds the fallen figure with her left hand. Whereas in all copies, the right hand of the supporting character fixes the recumbent figure at her armpit (just like in 'Eternal Springtime'), the left arm is reaching across the bossom in the Stanford and Aix-les-bains bronzes, whereas in the Lille marble carving, this left arm remains folded behind the other figure. The latter seems to be the most recent version; the Musée Rodin owns marble carvings in both versions.


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