Monday November 26 2018
Over the years Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears acquired over 1,400 pieces of artwork. It was Pears who was the more avid collector of the two and in 1958 he purchased the exquisite bronze maquette of a figure from Auguste Rodin’s Les Bourgeois de Calais, 1884.
Les Bourgeois de Calais is perhaps Rodin’s most famous work. Commissioned by the city of Calais in 1884, the sculpture commemorates an event which took place during the Hundred Year’s War where Edward III demanded six of the town’s leaders, or burghers, surrender themselves to him so that he would spare the people. Eustache de Saint Pierre, one of the wealthiest leaders, was the first to volunteer, followed by five others whom he then led to the city gates anticipating execution. Rodin captured these figures in this moment of heart-breaking heroism in his magnificent sculpture.
The maquette Pears purchased is of the figure of Pierre de Wiessant. Rodin initially created nude statues for each of the burghers and covered them in wet canvas in order to simulate sackcloth which the burghers supposedly wore. He made two models and one study of de Wiessant before making the final sculpture. The first depicts the man pointing to himself and the second – which the final sculpture reflects – the man has his arm raised defensively.
The maquette from the Britten-Pears Foundation Collection is part of the exhibition Kiss and Tell: Rodin and Suffolk Sculpture. Usually on display in The Red House, the sculpture was placed in a specially designed box to be safely transported from Aldeburgh to Ipswich by art handlers Constantine.
Two members of our Archive team accompanied the sculpture on its journey across Suffolk and were able to enjoy a sneak peek at the exhibition as the sculpture and other artworks were installed.
The main feature of the exhibition is Rodin’s life-size marble sculpture The Kiss, on loan from the Tate as is the literature which inspired it. The exhibition will feature an assortment of other works by Rodin from museums and galleries from across East Anglia as well as works by local artists Elisabeth Frink, John Constable and Maggi Hambling who also explore the theme of the human body. Additionally, artefacts from the World Cultures collection will be on show to demonstrate how bodies have been depicted across the world over time.
‘Kiss and Tell: Rodin and Suffolk Sculpture’ is open now until Monday 29 April 2019 at Christchurch Mansion in the Wolsey Art Gallery. For more information, please visit the Colchester and Ipswich Museums website.