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Thursday, 22 November 2012

A banquet in Paris

Sunday, November 22nd., Paris.

I was invited last night to the annual banquet of La Plume at the restaurant of the Societes Savants.

La Plume was a French literary and artistic review. It was set up in 1889 by Léon Deschamps, who edited it for ten years and was succeeded as editor by Karl Boès from 1899 to 1914. Its offices were at number 31 rue Bonaparte. From its beginning, famous artists such as Willette, Forain, Eugène Grasset, Toulouse-Lautrec, Maurice Denis, Gauguin,Pissarro, Signac, Seurat and Redon contributed to it. One of its most famous issues is that devoted to le Chat noir.

About 200 guests, I should imagine, including a dozen or so "movement-y" women, sloppy, of the sort I detest - Stage Society, Fabian Society sort, almost exactly as in London. A big, badly-arranged, too-crowded banquet, mediocre as a meal. I was with Davray and Kozakiewicz, a Pole, who translated Sienkewicz and is now running H.G. Wells in France. I was introduced to a lot of people. I saw Paul Adam, handsome and not as old as I expected, but I was not introduced to him. I believe Octave Mirbeau was there but I did not see him. Besnard, the painter, was there.
I was introduced to Auguste Rodin, a little man with a fine long grey beard and a big nose over it, and very vivacious. He was in evening dress (against the rule) with the rosette. He seemed a simple man; he talked to me for a few minutes quite naturally and without any sort of pose.

Rodin in 1905
François-Auguste-René Rodin (1840 – 1917), was a French sculptor, generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, though he did not set out to rebel against the past. He was schooled traditionally, took a craftsman-like approach to his work, and desired academic recognition, although he was never accepted into Paris's foremost school of art. Sculpturally, Rodin possessed a unique ability to model a complex, turbulent, deeply pocketed surface in clay. Many of his most notable sculptures were roundly criticized during his lifetime. They clashed with the predominant figure sculpture tradition, in which works were decorative, formulaic, or highly thematic. Rodin's most original work departed from traditional themes of mythology and allegory, modeled the human body with realism, and celebrated individual character and physicality. Rodin was sensitive to the controversy surrounding his work, but refused to change his style. Successive works brought increasing favour from the government and the artistic community. From the unexpected realism of his first major figure – inspired by his 1875 trip to Italy – to the unconventional memorials whose commissions he later sought, Rodin's reputation grew, such that he became the preeminent French sculptor of his time. By 1900, he was a world-renowned artist. Rodin kept company with a variety of high-profile intellectuals and artists. He married his lifelong companion, Rose Beuret, in the last year of both their lives. His sculptures suffered a decline in popularity after his death in 1917, but within a few decades, his legacy solidified. Rodin remains one of the few sculptors widely known outside the visual arts community.

Afterwards I came home with Kozakiewicz, and found him an ardent Wagnerian. He told me he had sold 300,000 copies of the French translation of Sienkewicz, and had paid the author over 80,000 francs. He is a cultivated man, and seems to combine a financial acuity with a genuine taste in art.

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