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[The Clenched Hand]

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Throughout his career Rodin made constant use of photographs to analyze his work, but by the 1890s his interest had extended beyond their purely utilitarian function. Rodin recognized in Eugène Druet, an amateur photographer who owned a bar across the street from his studio, a talent for interpreting his art, and the two began a productive collaboration in the late 1890s. The retrospective of Rodin's sculpture, held in his personal pavilion at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, included seventy-one images by the photographer. Relations between the two artists were not, however, without strain, and after 1903 their collaboration all but ceased. Fascinated by the expressive power of the human hand, Rodin created many works where the hand, as an independent form, becomes a sculptural statement. "The Clenched Hand," made about 1885, is a smallish bronze, 18 1/2 inches in height. The photographs Druet made of it about ten years later are a characteristic, albeit extreme, example of his theatrical, often somber staging of Rodin's sculpture. In the series, the hand seems to emerge from the folds of a white flannel blanket, as if from an invalid's gown. The sculpture's material and subject are sometimes hardly recognizable; this particular image suggested to Rodin and his secretary, René Cheruy, some antediluvian monster crawling over desert sands. That it is also a severed hand in final spasm is suggested by its juxtaposition to a partially visible photograph of another, seemingly amputated, figure waving a deformed limb. This puzzling image within an image is Druet's study of Rodin's "Monument to Victor Hugo." As was customary with Druet, the image of "The Clenched Hand" is an enlargement. The resulting slightly blurred focus and washed-out grayish tint accentuate the unsettling, morbid atmosphere. In its cold light, the image is almost hallucinatory. Rodin's signature, inscribed on the negative beside that of Druet, makes the photograph an extension of his own work.

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