French Art and Colonialism: Indochine in the Work of Auguste Rodin and Theodore Riviere Presentation uri icon



  • As France consolidated control over its Asian colony, Indochine, at the turn of the twentieth century, governmental agencies began to use the arts to support colonial policy. Some artists aided this project, like the sculptor Théodore Rivière whose monumental statue A la France (1902) visually articulated colonial ideology. Rivière chose to work for colonial governments in Algeria and Indochine to develop a career when his metropolitan prospects dwindled. His work on behalf of colonialism coincided with a transformation of his art from quasi-Symbolist sculpture with literary and Oriental themes into a direct glorification of the French Empire.  By contrast, the 1906 drawings of the Royal Cambodian dancers by the sculptor Auguste Rodin reveal a complexity in the aesthetic engagement with colonial ideology. Georges Bois, a publicist for the exposition, tried to use the drawings to promote French imperialism. Rodin, however, used his fame to meet the dancers and thereby exploit the colonial authorities in turn. This paper aims to complicate our description of visual culture’s relationship to colonial ideology by examining not only an artist whose work supported empire but also an artist whose work ultimately evaded the desires of colonial officials to appropriate it. The complexity inherent in this relationship is further seen in the counter-cultural roots of Rivière’s sculpture and the deliberate indeterminacy of Rodin’s drawings.