Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hommage to Balzac

Balzac is among the best loved and apparently most prolific French writers; some 95 works (novels, essays, and stories) make up his Comédie Humaine with a cast of thousands who have a habit of popping up in one work as a minor character while receiving a more full-fledged treatment in another. I did my duty by reading Le Père Goriot (admittedly in English rather than French) and after that I'd pretty much had my fill.

But you don't have to be a fan of his work to be intrigued by the story of how the city of Paris chose to pay hommage to him. Despite his literary success, Balzac was chronically in debt and died in 1850 at just 51 years old.

Forty years after his death, a literary society commissioned Auguste Rodin to create a sculpture of Balzac. Rodin did innumerable studies, finally producing after 8 years, the statue that now stands today on Boulevard Raspail near its intersection with Boulevard Montparnasse. It created a scandal (which you can read more about in a 1998 piece in the New York Times) because it depicted Balzac in his dressing gown, corpulent and undignified. The scandal was such that it was not placed publicly until 1939. (Another copy can be found in the gardens of the Musee Rodin.) The literary society found another sculptor to do its bidding and the resulting work was erected on avenue Friedland, just opposite the tiny rue Balzac, in 1902.

Of course, time has a way of blurring the edges of controversy. So which one do you prefer?

Rodin's interpretation?

Or the more traditional approach?


debbie in toronto said...

we stayed just around the corner from the first statue...

Starman said...

I like both. Rodin's sculpture doesn't look like it's in a dressing gown, it looks more like a cloak one would wear to gout into the cold. Of course, it created a controversy, it's in Paris.

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