Matisse’s second sculpture, The Serf, was a direct confrontation with France’s greatest living practitioner, Auguste Rodin. Its subject was César Pignatelli, nicknamed Bevilacqua, a favourite model with Rodin, who cast him over 20 years as a handsome, wolfish young John the Baptist, a gaunt, death-bound Burgher of Calais and the homicidal Count Ugolino, driven by starvation to devour his own sons. In 1900, when Pignatelli first posed for Matisse, he was simultaneously modelling for Rodin’s abortive study of the mad king Nebuchadnezzar.
Rodin said of Pignatelli:
As soon as I saw him, I was filled with admiration; this rough, hairy man expressed violence in his bearing… yet also the mystical character of his race. I immediately thought of a Saint John the Baptist, in other words, a man of nature, a visionary, a believer, a precursor who came to announce one greater than himself. The peasant undressed, climbed onto the revolving stand as if he had never posed before; he planted himself firmly on his feet, head up, torso straight, at the same time putting his weight on both legs, open like a compass.The movement was so right, so straightforward and so true that I cried: ‘But it’s a man walking!’ I immediately resolved to model what I had seen. (Dujardin- Beaumetz, 1913).
Video of Matisse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN0okOq8Hyc
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