Iris, Messenger of the Gods  

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"The ultimate sign of the woman, Rodin here tells us, is no mystery; as the determining matter of bodily identity, of being, it can and should be exposed to view. And so, legs tense, energized, widespread in a movement quite unlike flight, Iris is made to figure her sexual difference. Headless, her body becomes the gesture that performs the necessary demonstration, while its sheer density and physical mass give substance to the sign. Hers is a rhetorical difference, of course, but it is a corporeal one as well. Corporeal, let it be said, in a special, unexpected way. There is the mute, powerful gesture of revelation, to begin with, which seems to equate the body with its movement; Iris and her sexual display are one and the same. And neither the body's substance nor its activity have anything to do with the sculpted vocabulary of the feminine current at the time. Nothing is soft, or delicate, or dimpled: the neck and one arm are only ragged stumps, the feet are clublike, the breasts lumpen, the belly pocked and pitted, the limbs seamed by mold lines left unsmoothed. Looking at the thing, how possible is it to dream of flesh ripe for the picking, when any belief in the illusion of flesh is so difficult to sustain? The sense of bodily corporeality and presence is assimilated to and counterweighted by Rodin's insistence that the viewer register the sculptor's role as author of that body. The Iris is meant to strike us as more artificial than natural, more made than seen; hence her notable effectiveness as a sign." --“Rodin's Reputation” by Anne Wagner


"How justified is it-so the questioning might begin-to offer such images as at all relevant to Rodin's public reputation? Are these works not really cabinet pieces-high art pornography, we might say-essentially private works meant for perusal after dinner, with cigars and a few carefully chosen friends? As such, are they any different from Courbet's Origin of the World, for example, which its first owner, Khalil Bey, apparently kept shrouded with curtains and showed only to a few cognoscenti? Did they really figure in Rodin's reputation? Should I not base my analysis of that reputation on, say, The Kiss?

The answer to that last question is certainly yes. I shall make the effort before too long. But attending to the better-known aspects of Rodin's art will not mask the fact that the Iris and the Balzac-and even the studies related to both-were also indubitably public works of art. They were published and reproduced; in fact the Balzac study illustrated Merrill's article "The Philosophy of Rodin." And they were encountered in the flesh, so to speak. The writer Severine saw a naked Balzac in Rodin's studio in 1894: "tout nu, l'horreur," she wrote:1° The Iris too was on view in that art lovers' mecca, placed prominently in front of the great plaster of the Gates of Hell.31 Even the drawings-and even the drawings of women masturbating and making love-were discussed in the press and offered up for the delectation of those who visited Rodin." --“Rodin's Reputation” by Anne Wagner


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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Iris, Messenger of the Gods[1] (ca. 1890, French: Iris, messagère des dieux) is a sculpture by Auguste Rodin.

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