15 October 2016 till 22 January 2017

From Rodin to Bourgeois: Sculpture in the 20th century

The evolution of sculpture in the West

Auguste Rodin, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Umberto Boccioni, Constantin Brancusi, Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore, Donald Judd, David Smith, Louise Bourgeois and many more... These are the main players in this major retrospective of modern sculpture. From Rodin to Bourgeois: Sculpture in the 20th century pinpoints the key developments in modern European and American sculpture. From Rodin’s Balzac right through to Sandback’s yarn sculptures and Bourgeois’s famous spiders: the exhibition is a journey through the high points in the history of sculpture in the West. According to the cliché, The Netherlands is a country of painting, not of sculpture. The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is keen to prove that the opposite is the case. This autumn’s wide-ranging exhibition will extend well beyond the confines of the museum, focusing public attention on the art of sculpture and its many virtuoso practitioners in the Western world.

Roughly speaking, the history of sculpture can be divided into three main periods: classical antiquity; the Renaissance, when Michelangelo took the art to new heights; and the 20th century, when artists freed sculpture from spatial constraints, hanging it from the ceiling, laying it on the ground, and liberating it from visible reality. Based on six themes, From Rodin to Bourgeois: Sculpture in the 20thcentury will provide a largely chronological overview of developments in this final key period in the history of sculpture. The story begins with Rodin.

Rodin the innovator

In the mid-19th century, sculpture was at a low ebb. Experiments with colour and loose brushwork were bringing rapid advances in the art of painting but there seemed to be little scope for innovation in the sculptural field. The pedestrian academic sculpture of the period attracted little interest at the annual salons. The famous French art critic Charles Baudelaire went so far as to describe the most distinctive property of sculpture – its three-dimensionality – as its main weakness. Rodin was the first artist to see that quality as a strength, not a weakness. He avoided focusing purely on the front of his sculptures and worked truly in the round. Inspired by the rapid brushwork of Impressionist painters, he left visible thumb prints on the surface and showed unfinished parts and fragments of bodies rather than complete and highly finished figures. After Rodin, sculpture would never be the same again.

The conquest of space

Rodin opened the floodgates of change. New generations of artists explored the previously unrecognized potentialities of sculpture. Kirchner and Derain sought to exploit the expressionistic potential of materials: not modelling in clay, where every slip can be corrected before the final casting, but carving stone or wood. Primitive art became a major source of inspiration. Brancusi blurred the distinction between the sculpture and its pedestal. Artists like Arp and Calder reduced the representational qualities of their work in order to achieve the purest form of image. Nevertheless, the human figure remained for a long time the accepted subject of sculpture. This was particularly so under totalitarian regimes, which used idealised images of the human body in their propaganda. The exhibition addresses this period too, including works like Bertelli’s Head of Mussolini. Other artists, like Giacometti, reacted by showing ravaged and emaciated bodies, while Arp, Moore and Hepworth created a biomorphic idiom that looks abstract but is still linked to visual reality. For the first time, landscape became a subject for sculpture. And 1960s Minimalists, like Judd and Andre, no longer represented anything. They were concerned with the experience of space; their sculptures are intended to become an integral part of the surrounding environment. This development reached its pinnacle in Fred Sandback’s yarn sculptures: works that no longer occupy a set point in space, but extend through three dimensions. Sculpture had finally conquered space.

The forthcoming exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum uses masterpieces of international art history to demonstrate these key developments in modern sculpture. Many of the works have never previously been exhibited in the Netherlands.

‘When a good sculptor models a human body, he not only represents the muscles, but the life which animates them.’

- Auguste Rodin

Artists featured in the exhibition:

Carl Andre, Jean Arp, Vladimir Baranov‐Rossiné, Ernst Barlach, Renato Guiseppe Bertelli, Umberto Boccioni, Emile‐Antoine Bourdelle, David Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Calder, Henk Chabot, Honoré Daumier, Edgar Degas, André Derain, Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Duchamp‐Villon, Emil Filla, Dan Flavin, Naum Gabo, Henri Gaudier‐Brzeska, Alberto Giacometti, Eric Gill, Julio González, Otto Gutfreund, Barbara Hepworth, Donald Judd, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Käthe Kollwitz, Henri Laurens, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Jacques Lipchitz, Aristide Maillol, Marino Marini, Henri Matisse, Joseph Mendes da Costa, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, John Rädecker, Germaine Richier, Auguste Rodin, Medardo Rosso, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Fred Sandback, Kurt Schwitters, Tony Smith, Paul Thek, Jean Tinguely, William Turnbull, Carel Visser, Tjipke Visser, Ossip Zadkine.

‘[…] it is a sensuous pleasure to see the figure emerge blow-by-blow from the tree trunk. Every trunk conceals a figure, you only need to peel it out.’

- Ernst Ludwig Kirchner


The exhibition will be accompanied by a Dutch-language book entitled Van Rodin tot Bourgeois. Authored by Doede Hardeman and Patrick Elliott, it is being published by Hannibal (price € 29.95).

In addition, publishing house Leopold is issuing a Dutch-language literary art book specially designed for children. Written by Ted van Lieshout, De Vogels tells a story about three sculptures (by Rodin, Maillol and Degas respectively). The book is illustrated by Ludwig Volbeda, whose original drawings will be on display in the museum’s special Children’s Gallery throughout the exhibition period.

‘We do not wish to copy nature; we do not wish to reproduce, but to produce. We want to produce as a plant produces its fruit.’

- Jean Arp


The exhibition and catalogue have been created in close collaboration with the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh and are co-funded by NN Group. This is the second year running that NN Group has associated itself with an exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.

The Gemeentemuseum wishes to thank the Lehmbruck Museum for the exceptional loan of Brancusi’s La Négresse Blonde (1926).