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Spirit of eternal rest

Wednesday February 21, 2007

Paul Myers

Since the half-term trip to Burgundy, it's been decided that the sleeping patterns of the young prince (my son) have to be reconfigured. And the weapons of Dr Richard Ferber have been redeployed in this battle.

The good doctor's attack involves a parent using tough love so that the bairn is left for timed bursts and then reassured. Ultimately he or she nods off on his or her own.

It worked for the other two. But the young prince is not so bonny as the new world order is launched and his screams sear the evening air, yet somehow without disrupting his sweetly sleeping sisters in the adjacent room.

He eventually relents.

As this rhythm of atrocities is being visited upon the boy, I leave the family home in Paris and head to London for work. There I decide that the best way to flesh out my mettle for the skirmishes ahead is with the cool calm of culture.

First stop, the Tate Modern, where I am a zen moment incarnate as I peruse my newspapers and drink a morning coffee after taking in David Smith's array of metallic sculptures.

I succumb to the inner child and try out one of Carsten Höller's giant slides snaking down from various levels of the Turbine Hall.

The 26.5 metre drop from level five down to the ground comes in a swirling sinuous rush through nearly 60 metres of tubes. Now I'm a speeding adult and there are still a few hours to burn before I go to the office.

I seek inspiration on the waterfront. Well I can't see a film but a wave of symmetry hits me . . . the Rodin exhibition at the Royal Academy.

I immediately dismiss the board at the foot of the steps promoting Dr Claudine Mitchell's lunchtime lecture on Rodin's erotic drawings. Certainly not. I'm here to chill out. Actually I don't have enough time. I wander around the gallery.

I'm transfixed by six figures. I've always liked the Burghers of Calais. That's probably because I found the sculpture depicting the 14th century incident much easier to appreciate than Georg Kaiser's play, which I had to plough through at university.
Sure, Kaiser's first world war take on wealthy men humbling themselves in rags to avert a slaughter oozed uberzeitgeist, but at 18 what did I know of self-sacrifice, noble resignation and heroism?

And I certainly didn't know that Rodin based several of the heads on the specific physiogonomies from the Pas de Calais region.

Feeling freshly embellished courtesy of the Royal Academy's notes, I press on to The Thinker.

This piece, I'm informed, started life small and the bronze was eagerly collected. The third Lord Grimthorpe urged Rodin to enlarge and the rest is worldwide acclaim.

While surveying the contours, I have a thought. If all these Rodin pieces are here, what's back at his manor in Paris?

. . . Back in Paris

I take Mimi and the young prince to find out while Inès recuperates from her capoeira lesson and her mother recovers sleep lost through single-handedly enforcing the boy's new nocturnal regime.

Since my last visit to the Musée Rodin with the girls, there's been a 14m euro revamp. The stately old entrance has given way to a glitzy glass fronted atrium incorporating an exhibition space . . . offering a selection of Rodin's erotic drawings.

Deprived in London of Dr Mitchell's insights, my interest must be obvious to the cashier who, despite giving me a ticket for the entire museum, urges me not to take Mimi into the exhibition.

"It might be a bit strong for her," she suggests.

Denied yet another chance to delve into the sculptor's sexual psyche, I accept the guidance with grace.

Though the gallery is new, the policy barring pushchairs from the house hasn't changed one bit. So the young prince, who has managed to fall asleep during the 20-minute ride on the metro, has to be transferred from the buggy into a backpack.

I worry that he might wake up and unleash a torrent of screams. I ask Mimi to hold the backpack so I can slot him in gingerly, but scuffing her shoes on the pebbles outside is far more appealing.

With the boy more or less secured and still sedate, an attendant shows us where to leave the buggy and ushers us to the cloakroom. Enthusiasm plummets when we?re told that Mimi can't take in her felt tip pens to draw with. As the lip starts to quiver, the desk attendant gives her a pencil.

Barely convinced, Mimi clutches it and the pieces of paper she harvested at home. But denied her chance to compose with colours, she declines several opportunities to sit and sketch.

So we speed past the exhibits . . . the Kiss is there, as is the Secret and L'Age Mur from his used and abused muse, Camille Claudel. Not much appears to be missing, and I later discover it's hardly surprising since eight bronze casts of the enlarged version of The Thinker were made during Rodin's life.

Any minor gaps in the collection are artfully masked by Jennifer Gough Cooper's exhibition of photos of Rodin's scultpures. A caption tells me that the photographer visited the museum for the first time in 1996 and was so enchanted by the architecture, ambiance and light that she decided to start taking tasteful shots of the sculptor's pieces.

Mimi initially visited the museum in a buggy and was also enchanted; however, it was the garden that drew her in and we head there to scuff the shoes some more.

We skirt around The Meditation and Orpheus with a boy who's now awake, all snuggled up in his buggy and chirping. We sit down on a bench not far from The Spirit of Eternal Rest. Maybe the boy will get a steer as Mimi and I try our hand at alfresco composition.

Fearing that the contortions of Ugolino in front of us might be the kind of material for a Dr Mitchell lecture, I propose the simplicity of The Shade.

During snacks at the cafe in the garden, we squint at our joint drawing. I'm given credit for doing a discernible arm and head. Mimi's done a great shoulder but my attempt at a leg prompts far too many questions about the male anatomy.

While I feed the boy his milk, Mimi lends our Shade a kaleidoscope of colours and I think of the two resting at home.

It's an interlude of extended domestic stillness. I'll never look like a burgher from Calais but the psychology is coming along.


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