Visual art, especially sculpture, has been a matter of first priority on the campus at Stanford University, where one may happen upon works of Joan Miro, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and others.
But the sculptural glory of the Stanford campus is found in the collection of works by Auguste Rodin - 20 massive pieces cast in bronze and darkened by time - which are displayed in the B. Gerald Cantor Rodin Sculpture Garden, so named because all the works there were either given or lent by Cantor.Fortunately, being in direct and squarely rooted contact with solid ground, these works suffered no damage whatever in the earthquake of Oct. 17, 1989.
Not so lucky was the adjoining Leland Stanford Museum of Art, which lacked just two years of completing its centennial without incident. Severely marred by cracks in its brick walls, the museum is now closed. Glass domes balance precariously, and decorative stonework outlining the roof has been taken down, lest it fall on passers-by.
The $10 million needed to restore the building is unlikely to materialize in the foreseeable future. Throughout the campus, about $168 million is needed for restoration and repairs; classrooms and dormitories take first preference, with museums far down the pecking order.
Meanwhile the rest of the university's Rodin collection - about 100 pieces, displayed inside, that survived the earthquake with minimal damage - has been put in storage or lent to other museums.
However, the sculpture garden remains intact, offering an inviting hour of browsing. The display is classic and serene, with terraces rimmed by thin French poplars, grassed and shaded areas, pedestals and low benches, and the stately museum in the background.
Stanford has the largest Rodin collection anywhere outside of France, according to docents who conduct periodic tours of the garden.
The highlight of the collection is the "Gates of Hell," created under a French state commission awarded Rodin in 1880 to make a bronze door for the future Musee des Art Decoratifs. The building was never built, and the gate was never completed, being left unfinished at Rodin's death in 1917. But to assist in this work, Rodin was given a studio and a stipend that made him secure. And from the many figures created for the gate, Rodin made direct copies in larger form, several of which are displayed in the garden.
Inspired by Dante's "Inferno," Rodin first envisioned a door similar to the Ghiberti "Gates of Paradise" in Florence; but he fell under the spell of William Blake in England and arrived at a theme to suggest the force of pain, death and love in the universe. (Stanford's is the fifth Gates of Hell cast from Rodin's forms. Others may be found in the Rodin Museum in Paris, in Philadelphia, Tokyo and Germany, but Stanford's is reportedly the most accurate and finest quality of all.)
Perhaps the most famous figure derived from the gate is the Thinker, whom Rodin conceived of as Dante, brooding over the scene below. By extension, it has come to represent the visionary artist.
"The blind (without irises), deaf, and mute figure (sealing his mouth with his hand) shows that during moments of creation he must shut out all sensory distraction in order to totally and intensely concentrate on his inner vision," say brochure notes. Stanford also owns a large Thinker, which sits in front of the J. Henry Meyer Memorial Library.
Rodin was able to accept public commissions to sell casts of studies for his gates as well as the final work. Among such works displayed in the garden is the Martyr, a horizontal version of a running woman; also two fallen caryatids, traditionally draped female figures supporting an entablature (upper part of a wall or story of a building). One of Rodin's caryatids bears a stone, and one an urn. Also on display are casts of Meditation and Meditation Without Arms, for whom the model was Rodin's student and mistress, sculptress Camille Claudel.
The "Burghers of Calais" was commissioned by that city to commemorate heroes who in 1347 gave themselves as hostages to King Edward III of England in exchange for lifting a siege. A copy now stands in the gardens of Parliament in London, in thanks for the intervention of the English queen who persuaded her husband to show mercy to the heroes.
Rodin created the six heroes on one base but later cast and sold them separately. The figures represent patriotism even in defeat and have become synonymous with Rodin's spirit. One of the six is displayed in the sculpture garden, the others on Stanford's old Quad. Also in the garden are massive heads of two burghers Pierre de Wissant and Jean d'Aire.
Tributes to artists are represented by the Spirit of Eternal Repose, a kind of male muse, balanced on a tall column in a gravity-defying position. Also on view is Orpheus playing his harp - the hero of the "Orpheus and Eurydice" legend and patron saint of artists in Rodin's day. Both are hybrid figures, made by a skillful blending of parts from other statues.
Rodin believed all inspiration came from nature, and two statues of artists show this reverence. The 17th century landscape painter Claude Lorrain stands in an especially fluent pose, glancing over his shoulder in astonishment at the setting sun. And for the tomb of his friend, Bastien Lepage, Rodin showed the young artist gazing toward the fields where he often painted.
Several partial figures complete the display - works that despite their mass convey fluency, freedom and spontaneity, even without heads and arms. They are mostly the abstract works with roughened surfaces to which Rodin inclined toward the end of his life, most concerned with encapsulating the flow of a beautiful movement, an impression or emotion, which looked forward to modern art.
Rodin (1840-1917) did not arrive young. A native Parisian, he failed the entry examinations for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts three times, then worked as a sculptor of decorative stone for many years in Paris and Brussels. The inspiration of a trip to Paris freed him and led to his producing the Age of Bronze, his first major work, when he was 37.
He was a titan of sculpture, enormously sensual, who rendered the human body sumptuously. Some of his statues caused riots, mostly because of their nudity in a Victorian age.
The Paris Exposition of 1900 contained 150 of his sculptures, which he later transferred to Meudon, where under his supervision many assistants cast and even chiseled from marble his designs, under his supervision.
By this time he had gained international fame. He was lionized in England, also in the United States, Germany, Austria and France.
By 1916 the beautiful 18th century Hotel Biron was converted to a museum for his works by the French government, which became his heir.