Yesterday, I went back to say (what turned out to be a tearful) goodbye to the Moore Rodin exhibition at Compton Verney – a sort of last-minute bittersweet birthday present to myself.
Even after half-a-dozen visits, and a growing familiarity, I still find the works immensely moving: especially the maquettes and drawings displayed inside the house. There is no photography allowed, there – nor can you touch the sculptures, of course – but so obvious are the deft mouldings and impressions of the sculptors’ fingers on the smaller pieces that it is effortless to hold them in your mind, and experience their tactile attraction at a distance. (I still wish I could photograph them, though: to remember them all the better.)
It is probably for this reason that my favourite work – the one I covet most of all – is Moore’s ‘self-portrait’ of his intertwined fingers – The Artist’s Hands, c.1974 – almost scribbled, it is so dynamic (and yet utterly skilful – Moore was, as are so many great artists, an accomplished and insightful draughtsman): in a mixture of media, including charcoal and ballpoint pen. This is the centrepiece, to me, of a room filled with pieces all based on an interlocking motif – including a working model for one of my favourites of his outdoor works: the 1963-64 Locking Piece that was featured at Kew.
Even though the two artists never met, there are so many parallels in their work – some made explicit by Moore himself (who was serving in France, as a young man, when Rodin died); some expressed in the wonderfully curated juxtapositions both inside and outside the building – that not only is it obvious that Moore is Rodin’s natural heir; but that, in some ways, he can be seen as the earlier artist’s autodidactic student: learning from him, but utilizing his own methodologies and innate vision to expand the capabilities, subjects and shapes of their shared craft. It is almost as if one soul shared two lifetimes of marvellous interlocking creativity.
…when seen side by side, Moore and Rodin’s work reveals many shared concerns. Their deeply felt humanism impelled them to seek the universal and the primal through the distillation of the human form down to its essence. A shared interest in ideas of metamorphosis underpins their desire to fuse the human figure with nature, which they achieved by dissolving the boundaries between anthropomorphic and geological forms.
– Richard Calvocoressi and Steven Parissien: Foreword to Moore Rodin
As with Kew, the grounds will initially seem desolate when the large sculptures are removed: they fit the landscape so well; are elevated by it; and enhance it, in return. As the worn paths and returfed squares of earth where they have stood, and their viewers have circled, will leave fading marks on the Compton Verney parkland, so will there be a slow-to-vanish mark on my heart: such is the impression they have made. I shall just have to make a long-desired pilgrimage to Perry Green to get my next fix.
I have said it before – and I will no doubt repeat it unremittingly… – but we are immensely fortunate to have so many wonderful cultural resources on our doorstep. Tourists are driven to visit our home county because of a sometimes ineffable (what Shakespeare himself might describe as ‘termless’) relationship with a centuries-old playwright and poet who they may, sometimes, only half-understand. But there is so much more to experience; and lucky are we who were born here, or stumbled into staying.