Auguste Rodin & Francisco Franco
I like this combination because it works at various levels. Firstly it makes the point that Rodin and Calouste Gulbenkian were contemporaries, and then it adds the fact that Franco was too. It brings together people from different places: France, Portugal and England via Turkey. Gulbenkian seemed to be unusually keen to meet Rodin, and although we can’t be sure that he did, we do have four letters (in the Musée Rodin in Paris) which show that he wanted to. The piece which Gulbenkian had spotted in Brussels was the portrait head of Legros, and he was obviously able to buy another cast, because we have it today in the collection. It makes a very good pair with the anonymous head of an old man by Franco, and the Legros portrait almost could be just a character head of an older model. And indeed the first work by Rodin to achieve any kind of visibility was his portrait head of an old man, modelled after one of his favourite models. The lively modelling for which Rodin became famous, originally in the clay, is very evident in the Legros example, and he probably worked hard at this piece because he admired Legros as a fellow artist. I like the way the two sit beside each other, probably for the first time in their lives, but seem so well balanced. The Legros suspended in the air, with no base to speak of; the Franco quite massive, more like a bust which might be used on a plinth to mark a famous man. Instead of this, Legros is famous but the bust modest, and Franco’s model is unknown, but the work is substantial in comparison. You would expect it to be the other way around.
Rodin is a perhaps obvious point in common between Calouste Gulbenkian and the Portuguese art world. Even if he never knew Francisco Franco (and it seems that Gulbenkian never knew any Portuguese artists), Franco was typical of his times in wanting to get closer to Rodin. And in this case, Franco was exactly like Gulbenkian, who also tried to meet the artist. Many collectors were fascinated by Rodin’s aura, as were artists. It is a common misconception that young artists were trained by Rodin, but this was never the case. Although Rodin had a huge atelier, with over 90 assistants at its height, he never took students. Artists could get close to him by carving for him, like Bourdelle, but they received no formal training. The bust of Legros by Rodin dates back to c.1882, and was one of a series of lively portraits of artists. Legros was living in England by then (one of a generation of artists who left France during or after the Commune) but it is assumed that this was modelled when he made a return visit to France.
The bust was well-received in England, and there are bronzes in Manchester and Cambridge; two were also bought by the French state, and are now in the Musées Rodin and Orsay. Gulbenkian saw the work on show in Brussels, and asked the artist for it, or one just like it. This seems to indicate that the collector did not have much of a grasp of bronze casting, a process specifically designed to allow exact copies to be made.
Penelope Curtis, curator
Julgo que a escolha destas duas esculturas traduz um pouco daquilo que penso ser um dos objetivos da exposição: proporcionar encontros entre a Coleção do Fundador e a Coleção Moderna. Este exercício não apresenta grandes dificuldades tratando-se destas obras, adquirida uma (Rodin) e produzida outra (Franco), com apenas um ano de diferença. A curiosidade de a peça de Francisco Franco, artista nascido no Funchal, ser datada do ano em que parte para Paris, 1909, com bolsa do legado Valmor, coloca-a numa fase inicial da sua obra escultórica, permeável à lição de Rodin, considerado o pai da escultura moderna. Enquanto o Retrato de Velho de Francisco Franco segue a temática clássica da representação das idades do homem, modelo idealizado, afrontando através da plasticidade da técnica o cânone estabelecido, Rodin reproduz o busto de um amigo seu, o pintor Alphonse Legros, individualizando a fisionomia do artista através do gesto e da modelagem registada a partir do modelo vivo. Calouste Gulbenkian adquiriu diretamente a Rodin o busto de Legros, que tinha visto na Exposição Universal de Bruxelas, nesse mesmo ano, escrevendo a Rodin que desejava que o artista executasse um «exemplar idêntico» para a sua coleção. Existe no Arquivo Gulbenkian uma carta de Rodin dirigida ao Colecionador, manifestando o prazer que seria recebê-lo na rue de Varenne, ficando por confirmar se os dois se vieram a encontrar.
João Carvalho Dias, curador