Geneva celebrates the "Hodler of sculpture"

Rodo in his Paris studio. Geneva iconography centre

For the next five months, Geneva's Art and History Museum will be paying tribute to one of the finest-ever Swiss sculptors, Auguste de Niederhäusern, better known as Rodo.

This content was published on April 3, 2001 - 07:34

Born in Vevey of a Bernese family, Rodo studied in Geneva. But he produced most of his best work in Paris, where he collaborated with and enjoyed the backing of Rodin.

Despite being labelled the "Hodler of Sculpture" or the Swiss Rodin, Rodo remains virtually unknown to the wider public, and this first major exhibition of his work seeks to change that.

"Sculpture is generally badly treated by museums. It's difficult art," says exhibition curator Paul Lang. "If Rodo had been a painter with the same talent, he would have had a completely different career."

Instead he died in poverty in 1913, shortly after completing the plaster version of his greatest work, Jérémie, which now stands outside St Pierre Cathedral in Geneva.

Art critics now consider him one of the most important figures in European sculpture around the turn of the last century, having been one of the driving forces behind the "return to form" movement.

One can detect the influence of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Rodin, Aristide Maillol and, to a lesser extent, Hodler in his work, but that is to ignore the violent spontaneity and lyrical beauty of many of his sculptures.

Entitled "A Visionary between Geneva and Paris", the exhibition includes some 40 sculptures, accompanied by sketches and photographs from several Swiss and foreign collections.

The visionary aspect of his work can be seen in ambitious projects which never reached fruition such as the Temple of Melancholy, three large sculptures, which Rodo envisaged in an alpine context. They can be seen together, arranged correctly, for the first time since 1913.

Lang says Rodo believed in a kind of "total art" which linked sculpture to painting, architecture, opera and other disciplines.

He was one of a number of talented Swiss artists to emerge in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Indeed, the exhibition displays sculptures by Rodo of Ferdinand Holder, Giovanni Giacometti and Cuno Amiet.

"At the turn of the century, Switzerland was trying to develop a national art which could express its national identity, if there is such a thing," Lang told swissinfo. "It was ironic that he should be called the Hodler of Sculpture, because he did most of his work in France. He was more a European sculptor than a Swiss one."

Among his most well-known works in France is the memorial to his friend, the poet Paul Verlaine, which stands in the Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris. But Rodo made an equally important impact on public spaces in Switzerland. As well as Jérémie, he produced three famous allegorical figures which, since 1902, have graced the front of the federal parliament building in Bern.

The exhibition, which runs until August 5, coincides with the publication of a new exhaustive catalogue of his work, produced by the former director of the Art and History Museum, Claude Lapaire.

by Roy Probert

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