Auguste Rodin, Cambodian dancer, 1906,
Graphite pencil, gouache
On 10 July 1906, Rodin, aged 66, attended a performance given in the Pré-Catelan, Paris, by a troupe of Cambodian dancers, who had accompanied King Sisowath of Cambodia on his official visit to France. Enthralled by the beauty of these dancers and the novelty of their movements, Rodin followed them to Marseilles to be able to make as many drawings of them as possible before they left the country on 20 July.
They made a deep impression on the artist, as he confided to Georges Bourdon, in an article for the newspaper Le Figaro on 1 August 1906: “There is an extraordinary beauty, a perfect beauty, about these slow, monotonous dances, which follow the pulsating rhythm of the music… [The Cambodians] have taught me movements I had never come across anywhere before…”
Rodin used gouache (ochre for the graceful arms and head, deep blue for the tunic draping the body), applied in broad brush strokes over and beyond the contour lines, to amend and rectify the initial pencil drawing of this crouching dancer’s hieratic pose. All the details are eliminated (garments, face, hairstyle…).All that remains is the concentrated energy of the graceful, eloquent, age-old gestures.
“In short,” concluded Rodin, “if they are beautiful, it is because they have a natural way of producing the right movements…”.