The Late Portraits
Auguste Rodin, Miss Eve Fairfax, Bust, 1902–3. Bronze, 44 x 39 x 23 cm. Rodin made more portraits of British people than he did of any other nationality. It was especially the wealthy members of London society who begged him to make their busts, and they looked to Rodin’s friends for an introduction. The busts were realised in Paris, in long working sessions, each person leaving in their memoirs an account of the experience. George Wyndham, then Chief Secretary for Ireland, came to Paris in 1904, and sat with his chest bare, his very natural pose recalling a Roman hero. ‘It’s really a portrait, a most striking portrait. It’s true, it’s alive…But it’s more than that, much more. It is the Man of Forty. No-one has ever done that’. Other sitters included the Countess of Warwick (Edward VII’s mistress at one point), Lady Sackville and George Bernard Shaw.
Ernest Beckett, the future lord Grimthorpe, commissioned Rodin to make a portrait of his beautiful fiancée Eve Fairfax (1871-1978). Rodin admired the beauty and character of the young woman, seeing in her a blend of Diana the huntress and a satyr. ‘Even when you do not speak, your gestures, your restrained expression and desirable movements …touch the soul of the artist.’ He began in terracotta, then moved to plaster, bronze and marble, and finally an allegorical interpretation of the pensive face lost in thought and crowned with ears of wheat.