French sculptor Augustine Rodin was a naturist! Well that's my guess anyway after reading one of his quotes and seeing his masterpiece “The Kiss”. Rodin said, “Man's naked form belongs to no particular moment in history; it is eternal, and can be looked upon with joy by all the people of all ages”. He had a great way to describe his art..... “I choose a block of marble and cut off whatever I don't need”.
BN Eastern Region's Nigel, Baz and Wendy heard about the Kiss and Tell Exhibition in Ipswich and then negotiated and organised our visit. The four-ton slab of marble that makes up The Kiss is certainly a wonderful centrepiece but there was far more to our sell out visit than that. The exhibition is in the magnificent Christchurch Mansion in the centre of Ipswich. It's a 500 year old Tudor building which contains a permanent art exhibition including paintings by Gainsborough and Constable. We were able to wander around the huge building with surprises around every corner in terms of history and art. Some rooms recreated different times in history with costumes, furniture and artefacts. There were some excellent examples of intricately carved Tudor panelling in other rooms.
On arrival we were split into two groups of 30. Whilst one group explored, the other were given a tour and talk by curator Emma. Her pride in the exhibition and passion for her subject was inspiring. She gave us real insight into not only the background of the sculpture but also of Rodin and how a small museum managed to loan such a prestigious piece. The Kiss was commissioned in 1904 by an American who lived in Lewes called Edward Warren. He stipulated that the man's genitals must be complete! For several years it was kept in his stables. Then in 1914 it was loaned to the council for display in the Town Hall. A local head mistress, Miss Fowler-Tutt, was appalled and successfully campaigned to have it covered from public view. She thought that it might be too sexually exciting for soldiers billeted in the area. Naturists today recognise that sort of puritanism still exists. Later during the evening a number of us tried to recreate “The Kiss” for a photograph. It wasn't as easy as I thought and maybe some of us chaps did lack a little in physique compared to the original!
Both Emma and Saskia (the museum events organiser) were lovely hosts and clearly not concerned at having 60 naturists on site. Happily, they didn't feel the need to erect elaborate screening and put up curtains, even though we were in the middle of a public park with a footpath just outside one window. Baz and Wendy helped the day go well by laying on refreshments and arranging for Springwood Naturist Club in Colchester to have an Open Day to coincide with the visit.
The two subjects, Francesca and Paulo, portrayed in “The Kiss” are from Dante's Inferno. Francesca's husband Giovanni caught his wife with his younger brother Paulo and killed them both.
We spoke to many BN members at the time and all were delighted with the evening. Wandering round the rooms lends itself to a different kind of social interaction unlike when we have dining events and mainly speak to those around us. It is rare for a naturist event to be held in a British museum /gallery. Hopefully other museums will open their doors to us in future.
Thanks to Pauline and Stephen Skippins for the photos