Auguste Rodin on Nature, Art, Beauty, Women and Love

“For Art there is no Ugliness in Nature”

“I have arrived at this belief by the study of Nature. I can only grasp the beauty of the soul by the beauty of the body, but some day one will come who will explain what I only catch a glimpse of and will declare how the whole earth is beautiful. I have never been able to say this in sculpture so well as I wish and as I feel it affirmed within me. For poets Beauty has always been some particular landscape, some particular woman; but it should be all women, all landscapes. A negro or a Mongol has his beauty, however remote from ours, and it must be the same with their characters. There is no ugliness. When I was young I made that mistake, as others do; I could not undertake a woman’s bust unless I thought her pretty according to my particular idea of beauty; today I should do the bust of any woman, and it would be just as beautiful. And however ugly a woman may look, when she is with her lover she becomes beautiful; there is beauty in her character, in her passions, and beauty exists as soon as character or passion becomes visible, for the body is a casting on which passions are imprinted. And even without that, there is always the blood that flows in the veins and the air that fills the lungs.”

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), viz., Judith Cladel, Auguste Rodin
Pris sur la Vie, 1903,
pp. 103-104, translated by Havelock Ellis.

My father was a senior diplomat in India’s Embassy in Paris 1971-1973, and I (who had gained admission at Haileybury College, Hertford, in England to do Natural Science at Advanced and Special levels) loved my visits to Paris, crossing the Channel by boat or hovercraft. We lived at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel and I came to know Paris as well as a 17-18 year old could. In 1978 I returned from Cambridge to Paris for an interview, and that visit allowed me to come to know better the magnificent and moving art of Rodin. I later found his aesthetic philosophy captured in the statement above, which seems to me to be summarised by this equation:

Beauty = Ugliness + Love

which implies

Beauty – Love = Ugliness

E.g. a beautiful woman who is unloved becomes ugly just as a plain woman who is loved becomes beautiful.

If DH Lawrence had known of Rodin’s statement

“some day one will come who will explain what I only catch a glimpse of and will declare how the whole earth is beautiful”

he would have found it resonant. Perhaps his own magnificent descriptions as a naturalist made Lawrence the successor whom Rodin had wished for.