Rodin and Scotland: A Love Affair

Abbot Hall Art Gallery is currently showing one of Auguste Rodin’s best-known works – The Thinker is on show until 27 October. The iconic piece is on loan from the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. Pippa Stephenson, Curator of European Art, Glasgow Museums, explains how Scotland swooned for sculptures by the French artist:


Auguste Rodin is a well-known and widely-appreciated artist, with exhibitions springing up worldwide, particularly in the wake of last year’s centenary since his death. However, it wasn’t always that way.

It took France, in particular, a surprisingly long time to appreciate the artist’s naturalistic and unorthodox approach to sculpture. The first public monument to the ‘Father of Modern Sculpture’ was not erected in France until 1904, indicative of the country’s reluctance to embrace his art.

Scotland, however, developed a somewhat earlier appreciation for Rodin. Examples of the artist’s work were shown at the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition, a time when public opinion of Rodin’s reputation was still out to jury (by 1900, with the artist’s seminal exhibition in Paris, his worldwide reputation was firmly established).

In 1906, the artist received an honorary doctorate from Glasgow University. He gifted a bust, Saint George’ to Glasgow’s Hunterian Art Gallery in return, a token of his affection for the city. Recently, letters between Rodin and Francis Newbury, the visionary founder of the internationally-famous Glasgow School of Art, have been unearthed in the archives of the GSA. These few letters confirm that the pair were in dialogue around 1901, with Rodin asking Newbury to report on how his sculptures were being received in the Glasgow International exhibition of that year.

Recognising Rodin’s importance, Glasgow Museums bought two works from that exhibition, a plaster cast of ‘Saint John the Baptist’, and a cast of the ‘Burghers of Calais’.

It was the actions of William Burrell, however, which gave Glasgow its particularly special relationship with Rodin. Burrell was the owner of a successful shipping business, and took a keen interest in art, amassing an internationally-significant collection of over 9000 objects.

The collection opened to the public in 1983, and is currently undergoing extensive renovation, due to reopen in 2020. In the course of his lifetime, Burrell bought at least 14 bronzes by the artist, all of which are in the collection today. This gives Glasgow the second largest collection of Rodin’s in the UK (after the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the recipient of 17 sculptures gifted by Rodin himself in 1914), and one of the largest worldwide in a public collection.

Burrell’s first purchase, probably ‘Fleeting Love’, was made before 1901, which he lent to the aforementioned Glasgow International Exhibition. Photographs of Sir William’s Glasgow townhouse at 8 Great Western Terrace show Rodin bronzes on display alongside medieval tapestries and Northern European Renaissance paintings.

He bought these sculptures from local dealers including Alexander Reid, as well as directly through the Musee Rodin, Paris. He collected sculptures by Rodin up until 1937, including important pieces such as ‘The Thinker’, which is part of the British Museum spotlight tour, on display at Abbot Hall Art Gallery Kendal until 27 October.

More on the exhibition at

Rodin and the intriguing logics of the fragment

by Barbara Vujanović

Abbot Hall is the first gallery in the country to host an amazing Spotlight Loan exploring how Auguste Rodin took inspiration from the fragments of ancient Greek and Roman statues. Barbara Vujanović, who conceived the loan, explains how it came about:  

Sometimes things in life (and work) fall into place so flawlessly and easily, like pieces of a well adjusted mosaic.

The story behind my involvement with the British Museum, and working on the exhibition Rodin: rethinking the fragment seems to be one of those examples.

In 2015, I had the pleasure to co-author the retrospective of Auguste Rodin in Zagreb. Working with my colleagues from the Musée Rodin, namely with Véronique Mattiussi, enabled me to expand my knowledge on one of the greatest modernisers of sculpture.

I am dealing with the art of the Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, an artist who was marked by Rodin’s art and his friendship, and I became more and more interested in their mutual passion for antique and classical art. In fact, this is the subject of my PhD research, so I was very happy to meet Ian Jenkins, Senior Curator at the British Museum and an expert on Ancient Greek sculpture, in 2015 in Zagreb, just a few months after seeing his marvellous exhibition at The British Museum, Defining beauty – the body in ancient Greek art.

At the time he was preparing the project of the exhibition Rodin and the art of ancient Greece, and our interests on antique and modern sculpture overlapped, Ian Jenkins kindly proposed me for the British Museum’s International Training Programme. The six weeks I have spent in London and in Manchester in 2016 were an incredible experience.

Working with Ian Jenkins and his colleague Celeste Farge, co-author of the aforementioned exhibition on Rodin and antique art, turned me towards a challenging subject of the antique fragmentary sculpture influence on modern artist, mostly on Auguste Rodin.

Therefore, when I was invited to conceive a Spotlight Loan exhibition, with the help of my dear mentors, Ian and Celeste, I was naturally driven to the question of fragments.

Not only was it one of the themes of the Rodin exhibition at The British Museum, but also the very nature of the Spotlight Loan programme, which is based on the selection of just a small number of objects, turned me toward the intriguing logics of the fragment.

How one part or an object invokes another one, how one fragment can change our perception of the whole? I was thrilled to make the selection for this exhibition, but what excites me even more, is the anticipation of other fragments, pieces of the mosaic which will be added at Abbot Hall Art Gallery.

Barbara Vujanović by Rodin's The Thinker
Barbara Vujanović by Rodin’s The Thinker

I am very keen to learn about Rodin’s influences on Elisabeth Frink’s art. I believe that we, the curators, can provide the best projects once we understand we are all part of this large mosaic of knowledge, passion for art, culture and history.

I am looking forward to seeing those other pieces of the mosaic in Kendal, and I am hoping they will lead us towards some new experiences and discoveries.

Barbara Vujanović, Senior Curator, The Ivan Meštrović Museums – Meštrović Atelier, Zagreb.

Auguste Rodin: rethinking the Fragment, is now open until 27 October.

Elisabeth Frink Fragility and Power, runs until 29 September.

Barbara Vujanović will visit Abbot Hall on 27 September and give a talk: Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker: revolutionising modern art. To book

Image: Auguste Rodin, The Thinker, 1880-81, The Burrell Collection © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

Art on Tour: Putting Ourselves in the Picture V

Arrived at the Dock Museum in pouring rain, with Candle at a Window safely wrapped up and watertight, for the last day of Art on Tour. The Dock Museum are showing an exhibition commemorating the experience of the Home Front in Barrow during WW1 and the painting was secured on a screen at the entrance to the exhibition.


Harriet got us all thinking of favourite poems, and suddenly the table was littered with lovely fragments of language written alongside a tiny image of the painting. She and Rachael then ‘poetry bombed’ the Dock Museum, leaving these beautiful words and image on rails, in the lifts, on walk ways, in the museum spaces, on the stairs, in the café….pointing visitors in the direction of the painting.


Had an engaging conversation with Angela and friends, one of whom used to teach with Raphael’s husband Tim in Carlisle, and she shared several anecdotes involving the wonderful accessibility of Winifred’s paintings.


Angela is a great reader, and very interested in poetry and she and Harriet enjoyed a discussion about writing and what inspires writing. Stories emerged and experiences shared. Angela’s life in Africa and letters home that have been rediscovered. Harriet enjoyed sharing Winifred Nicholson’s lifelong practice of letter writing, particularly the letter she wrote to Kathleen Raine about a house being a ‘poem place’.


The context of WW1 provided another way into reading and experiencing the painting. We discovered on Monday that Raphael’s son, Winifred’s great grandson, works for Amnesty International – an interesting connection with the light in the painting and the candle as a symbol of peace, justice and non-violence.


The painting and its connection to the poem by Kathleen Raine, ‘Spell to Bring Lost Home’, had a particular poignancy during the time it spent in the Dock Museum, with visitors reflecting on family memories passed down, people who survived and those who did not.

Art on tour

The rag rug in the context of the home front was a great way of engaging visitors, immediately ‘hooking’ them into the painting as well as paving the way to the exhibition.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed taking art ‘out on tour’ and are already thinking – what next! In the meantime, come along to Abbot Hall Art Gallery on Saturday 30 August to an exhibition celebrating the experience at all five venues and welcoming ‘Candle at a Window’ back home.

Art on Tour: Putting Ourselves in the Picture IV

We were back out on tour with Candle at a Window on Monday. We took Winifred Nicholson’s painting up to the Hut at Brampton, close to where she lived for most of her life at Banks Head. We were privileged to be joined on this stop on the tour by Winifred Nicholson’s granddaughter Raphael Appleby and poet Harriet Fraser.


Raphael and Harriet spent the first few hours of the day inspiring 10 to 11 year olds from 6 local schools. Each of the children are working towards Arts Award qualifications.


Winifred Nicholson had a long and close friendship with poet Kathleen Raine and the children worked together, like painter and poet, to create a poem and a painting inspired by Candle at a Window.


We were then joined by an after school arts club in which the children created a range of responses to the work.


In the evening, a number of people called into our drop in session to have a close look at the work and contribute to our rag rug.


We ended the day with a great discussion, led by Raphael, with a local adult art group. Raphael talked about her grandmother’s work, her memories of her grandmother and Candle at a Window.


We’re looking forward to our last tour date at the Dock Museum, Barrow.


Art on Tour: Putting Ourselves in the Picture III

On Friday 20 June, Candle at a Window and the Art on Tour team were welcomed to Holme Community School. We were shown to the main hall and a fantastic exhibition of their own art work – some of which had been inspired by a trip to Abbot Hall earlier in the year.

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Once Winifred Nicholson’s painting had been hung alongside their work, the school joined us in the hall for a celebration assembly. Two girls sang a very moving duet of ‘Candle in a Window’ before a more boisterous whole school rendition of ‘This Little Light of Mine’.


Every child in the school had the opportunity to have a close look at the painting and explore the colour of texture of Winifred Nicholson’s work, tracing the strokes of her paintbrush. They had a chance to explore how the painting made them feel and to work with artist and writer Karen Lloyd to create their own poem.


In the afternoon, the main hall filled with older members of the Holme community who were served tea, coffee and cakes by enthusiastic year 5 waiters. The group were serenaded with a range of music from children of all ages – from bell ringing infants, to violin, drum and flute solos, to choir and group singing. And our rag rug is coming along!


At the end of the school day, parents, carers, younger siblings and other family members piled into the bursting hall, full of the smiling faces of performers and audience, joined in pure celebration.


Join us for one of our next drop in sessions:

  • Dock Museum, Barrow, Wednesday 25 June, 1 – 3.45pm

Look out for further blogs as we capture the rest of the tour throughout the month.

Art on Tour: Putting Ourselves in the Picture II

We had a creative day out on tour at Allithwaite Primary School yesterday, creating lanterns, paintings, portraits and poetry inspired by Winifred Nicholson’s Candle at a Window.

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The painting was welcomed with a school assembly in which each child saw the work for the first time. We visited Allithwaite School as part of their Arts Week, a whole week off timetable to celebrate the arts and to celebrate the talents of the children in the school.


The Art on Tour team were joined by Cumbrian artist and writer Karen Lloyd who ran a poetry workshop inspired by the painting with each class.


Every child had the opportunity to reflect on what makes them special and what is important to them and to capture those ideas in a self-portrait. One teacher commented that they had discovered things about their pupils that they hadn’t found out all year.


The children were given a small candle, representing their own light and the talents they have to nurture and to share with the world and they created a lantern to hold that candle and their self-portrait.


We were joined by parents and members of the Allithwaite community at the end of the day and the children had the opportunity to show off the work they had created.


We shared the painting with over 150 children, teachers, parents and members of the Allithwaite community throughout the day and we’re looking forward to the next stops on the Art on Tour journey. Join us for one of our next drop in sessions:

  • Holme Primary School, Friday 20 June, 1 – 4pm
  • The Hut, Brampton, Monday 23 June, 5 – 6pm
  • Dock Museum, Barrow, Wednesday 25 June, 1 – 3.45pm

Look out for further blogs as we capture the rest of the tour throughout the month.

Art on Tour: Putting Ourselves in the Picture

Lakeland Arts is taking ‘Candle at a Window’ by Winifred Nicholson out of its familiar surroundings in Abbot Hall and into community spaces across Cumbria. This inspirational painting will be displayed in schools, community centres and other venues for one day each, providing inspiration for a broad range of activities.

Candle at a Window

The first stop on the tour was the Coniston Institute on 30 May. Candle at a Window had been meticulously packed the night before and the Art on Tour team arrived at Abbot Hall early to collect the work for the 20 mile drive. We received a warm welcome at Coniston Institute where our project technician proceeded to unwrap and hang the work, much to the delight of an avid audience.


We were joined by a local watercolour artist and a poet from Wordsworth Trust who helped to inspire creative responses to the painting throughout the day. Cyclists, walkers, and passersby of all ages called in and had a go at painting, experimenting with the varied qualities and challenges of watercolours, expertly led by Matt. Visitors were treated to poetry readings and a poetry writing workshop, and participated in open discussion of their responses to Nicholson’s beautiful windowscape.


As well as a talented painter, Nicholson was a keen creator and collector of rag rugs. Remembering her role in championing this traditional Cumbrian craft, we are inviting people to contribute to a new rug throughout the tour, adding to the fabric on each stage of the journey. We will require a lot of help and participation to finish the large textile this summer!

W Nicholson photo

The friendly, relaxed and imaginative atmosphere created by the painting, location and the fascinating people we encountered in Coniston was an inspirational experience. Call in and visit Candle at a Window at one of our drop in sessions on future tour stops:

  • Allithwaite Primary School, Thursday 19 June, 3.15 – 4pm
  • Holme Primary School, Friday 20 June, 1 – 4pm
  • The Hut, Brampton, Monday 23 June, 5 – 6pm
  • Dock Museum, Barrow, Wednesday 25 June, 1 – 3.45pm

Look out for further blogs as we capture the rest of the tour throughout the month.