PRINT November 1969

The Partial Figure

IT IS DIFFICULT TO RECONSTITUTE all of the private as well as published reactions that the public has had to the partial figure in sculpture since Rodin began to exhibit his unmade or fragmented figures in the late 1880s. There are probably strong common denominators between our own intellectual and instinctive responses and those of our predecessors. The confrontation in sculpture of a figural part, such as an arm or leg, or a limbless torso, disappoints intellectual and esthetic ideals of wholeness; bringing unity to diversity of shapes and experiences, it contradicts our inclination to favor complete, as opposed to fragmentary, knowledge. Then there is always the suspicion that the sculptor has evaded the technically difficult. In his essay of 1903 on Rodin, Rilke showed his sensitivity to these challenges, against which he defended Rodin’s use of the fragment by saying, “In the art of

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