13 October 2017 – 7 January 2018
Elizabeth Peyton, Portrait at the Opera (Elizabeth), 2016, oil on panel, 17 x 14 x 1 1/4 inches
PRESS RELEASE: The French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici is pleased to present Eternal Idol, an exhibition bringing together paintings, drawings and prints by American artist Elizabeth Peyton and sculptures by French artist Camille Claudel. Works by the two artists, born a century apart, interact to reveal their distinct approaches to portraiture, myth and gesture. Peyton’s evocative selection of works also includes sculptures by Auguste Rodin. Coinciding with the centenary of Rodin’s death, the title of the exhibition refers to one of his most powerful artworks. This is the third act in the UNE series of exhibitions, originated by Villa Medici director Muriel Mayette-Holtz and curated by Chiara Parisi.
Peyton came to prominence in New York in the 1990s for her psychologically acute portraits. Throughout her career, her works have depicted both characters from her own life and figures from history and fiction. Whether based on photographs or painted from life, her works are typically intimate in scale, and compress a variety of precise and intuitive marks. Her portraits are frequently characterised by a freedom and range of expression, through which she evokes the interior life or psychology of subjects as diverse as David Bowie, Leonardo Di Caprio, Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth II, David Hockney, and her own friends and fellow artists. In addition to making new works specially for the exhibition, Peyton has created a monumental artist’s project for the Villa’s main façade as it undergoes renovation.
This exhibition engenders a dialogue between Peyton and Claudel (1864–1943). The exhibition comprises new and existing works by Peyton, displayed in the Grandes Galeries and the Balthus Studio, accompanied by a selection of sculptures by Claudel, one of the greatest sculptors of her time. Claudel’s work is rarely shown in Italy and this is her premiere at the Villa Medici.
Abandon (1886–1905), Study for Sakountala (1886), and Portrait of Rodin (1888–1889) speak eloquently of Claudel’s passion through the sheer force of her handling of materials ranging from plaster to marble to bronze. Equally striking, both for nineteenth-century and contemporary audiences, is the distinctive eye with which the artist mediated between classical mythology and her own biography, often blending the two – as in Perseus and the Gorgon (1899), in which she uses her own features for the head of the Medusa. Initially a student of the French sculptor Rodin (1840-1917), then his lover and an artist in her own right, Claudel was the model and muse for some of the works to be found at the Villa Medici – the sensual embrace of Rodin’s Eternal Springtime (1884), for example, and his portraits of her.
In describing the exhibition at the Villa Medici, Peyton fondly contradicts Shakespeare in remarking that two stars can share the same orbit. Claudel and Rodin’s intimate artistic and romantic relationship is triangulated by Peyton into a complex dynamic between three distinct artistic presences.
Curator Chiara Parisi states: “Elizabeth Peyton has conceived Eternal Idol around a particular kind of human expression. Rather than delivering a historical testimony or homage, her aim is to reflect on the ways in which artists relate with one another across time. This is not a traditional show about Claudel and Rodin and their influence, but instead an account of mutual motivations and desires, spanning centuries.”
Elizabeth Peyton lives and works in New York, where she studied at the School of Visual Arts. She has exhibited widely in museums and at biennials, and is featured in such leading public collections as the Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Tate Modern, London; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, where her 2008 retrospective “Live Forever” was acclaimed by the critics and the public. Her solo shows include “Here She Comes Now” at the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden; “Wagner”, “Manon Lescaut”, and “Tristan und Isolde” at Gallery Met at the Metropolitan Opera in New York; “Reading and Writing” at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; and “Still Life” at the Hara Museum, Tokyo.
Camille Claudel was born in Villeneuve-sur-Fère, in northern France, on 8 December 1864; the eldest of three children, she was the sister of the writer Paul Claudel. At this time in the 19th century an artistic career was inconceivable for a woman – most of all in the very male domain of sculpture. At age eighteen she began studying with the sculptor Alfred Boucher, who later entrusted her training to Auguste Rodin. The intensive creative partnership between the two was to last ten years and was marked by a profound artistic and emotional passion. Claudel posed for Rodin and helped him model such large works as The Gates of Hell. It was also at this time that she began to exhibit: compositionally daring pieces that displayed a complex, highly personal approach to the rendering of hair. She stopped exhibiting in 1905 and in 1912 destroyed many of her works — after producing, between the ages of 18 and 40, masterpieces that have left a permanent stamp on the history of art. On 10 March 1913 her mother had her interned. Abandoning sculpture completely, she died in the psychiatric hospital at Montdevergues in 1943, after thirty years of enforced isolation.
Auguste Rodin succeeded to mix the monumentality of Michelangelo and the intense realism inherited from the French gothic tradition. Rodin always impressed the idea of movement, forcing the relation between emptiness and fullness, with effects of dynamism and vitality that made his works an essential reference for the following generation.