Rodin in his Museum of Antiquities at Meudon, near Paris, circa 1910.

Rodin in London

The French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), one of the greatest and most innovative artists of the modern era, took great inspiration from the work of the 5th-century BC sculptor Phidias, who conceived the Parthenon sculptures.

Now, Rodin's work is shown alongside these ancient Greek sculptures in an exhibition at the British Museum, which he visited regularly in order to sketch. When he first arrived in London in 1881, he was hugely impressed by the museum's collection, particularly the sculptures of the Parthenon.

He often returned to the city in later life; in 1902 he declared '... in my spare time I simply haunt the British Museum'. Rodin continued to visit the museum until shortly before his death in 1917.

Thanks to a collaboration with the Musée Rodin in Paris, more than 80 works in marble, bronze and plaster, as well as some sketches, are displayed beside ancient Greek sculpture.

The show's design takes its inspiration from Rodin's other home and studio in Meudon, a hilltop mansion in the southern suburbs of Paris. In both houses the artist displayed Classical antiquities among his own works, on crates, stands or plaster columns.

On loan from the Musée Rodin are a number of Rodin's sketches, including 13 of the Parthenon Sculptures. Some of them are on headed notepaper from the Thackeray Hotel opposite the British Museum where Rodin stayed when he was in London.

Rodin's famous work The Kiss, 1882, was inspired by a sculpture of two intertwined goddesses, originally on the Parthenon's East Pediment, one of which reclines luxuriously in the lap of her companion. The British Museum has borrowed an important version of The Kiss from the Musée Rodin. It is a plaster cast of the first marble example and it became the version that Rodin would display in exhibitions, and from which others were copied. Both the Parthenon goddesses and Rodin's marble Kiss are carved from a single block, with one figure melting into another.

Ian Jenkins, the exhibition's curator at the British Museum, explained: 'Like many ancient archaeological sites, the Parthenon and its sculptures had been damaged and weathered over centuries. Rodin, however, took inspiration from the powerful expression that they conveyed through the body alone, as many of them were headless. He even removed the heads and limbs from his own figures to make them closer to the broken relics of the past. By doing so, he created a new genre of contemporary art – the headless, limbless torso.'

Rodin and the art of ancient Greece is on show in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery of the British Museum until
29 July 2018.

Lindsay Fulcher