The veiled Parisienne by sculptor Medardo Rosso

De Museologue in Boijmans van Beuningen

Yesterday museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam announced that it acquired an important sculpture. It happens to be ‘Femme a la voilette’, a veiled Parisienne who Medardo Rosso immortalized in wax back at 1923. I saw her half a year ago in the exhibition ‘Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray – Framing Sculpture’ in said museum. I hated it. Together with several other sculptures she was an eerie sight among these hardly recognizable figures in dirt-yellow wax. But with a little research done I have come to appreciate Rosso’s style. How had I missed that he was a key sculptor in the story of art? So upon viewing her a second time, the veiled woman revealed her secrets to me and so did the art of sculpting.

As I have come to understand, Rosso was a stubborn and rebellious persona. The colorful kind. He opposed classic sculpting with its sturdy rules. So rather than looking for eternal beauty he ventured on a truth-hunt in volatile moments. Daily life was his inspiration, the ordinary person his muse. And in the tradition of impressionism, he aimed to portray only the essential elements of his subjects, leaving out the ballast. This left for a corresponding technique: spontaneous and free, like the artist himself.

It is shown in ‘Femme a la voilette’. Most of the sculpture is nothing but abstract. But Rosso’s figures surface from their clay-ish treatments like fata morganas. So too does the veiled lady, her smooth face topped with a flower hat. She seems soft and lovely in the midst of her rough surroundings, trapped in an eternal moment. She captured me today, because I feel like I discovered her myself.

Discovering the veiled lady showed me a new way of looking at sculptures. I have never been a great fan, preferring the art of painting over it, but I am glad I now understand why Boijmans van Beuningen so proudly acquired the sculpture. Rosso is highly esteemed for freeing sculpting from convention in the early 20th century. This year, he was a star in above mentioned exhibition, which Dutch art magazine authority ‘Kunstbeeld’ voted best exhibition of 2014. With the veiled woman’s finding a new place among co-impressionist pieces in the Boijmans van Beuningen, who paid 1,9 million euros for her, Rosso re-affirmed his position in art history landscape. And in my own appreciation of art. Win-win!

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