An exploration of “two artists fumbling through the desultory streets of Paris, finding their paths to mastery.”
In 1902, living near the artist colony in Worpswede, Germany, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) and his wife, Clara Westhoff, had a new child when Rilke received a commission to write a monograph on Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Rilke left his family and traveled to Paris to meet the man for whose art he had a near-religious devotion. In Rodin, he expected to find a muse, a master, and a savior. He asked, “how should one live?” When Rodin replied, “work, always work,” Rilke took it as gospel, leading a mostly solitary life and devoting himself to his poetry. He sacrificed his family for his art; never mind that his wife was a talented sculptor. Rodin and Rilke established an immediate rapport, and the artist extended an open invitation to the poet. It was not an easy trek, but the monograph turned out to be a wonderful philosophy of creativity. Art Newspaper correspondent Corbett’s deep knowledge of her subjects accessibly reveals the strong connections—and various differences—between the two men. Rodin never questioned why he was an artist, unlike the metaphysical Rilke. Rodin’s influence on Rilke drove him to seek the maturity he was lacking for his craft. Rilke learned to empathize with inanimate objects and to appreciate abstractions, making his poetry sculpturally composed. Rilke also became Rodin’s secretary, living in the artist’s home until Rodin overreacted to what perhaps was only an overstep by Rilke in responding to a patron’s letter. Rodin fired him on the spot, and the two didn’t speak for months. That period was just what Rilke needed, as he realized that Rodin cast a diminishing shadow and that “art too is only a living.”
For lovers of poetry and art, an excellent look at two men of incredible talent—and how they handled it.