Summary of Auguste Rodin
François-Auguste-René Rodin's story recalls the archetypal struggle of the modern artist. He was born in obscurity and, despite showing early promise, rejected by the official academies. He spent years laboring as an ornamental sculptor before success and scandal set him on the road to international fame. By the time of his death, he was likened to Michelangelo. His reputation as the father of modern sculpture remains unchanged, and in recent years the wider exhibition of his many drawings has also elevated his reputation as a draughtsman. However, his many intimate - some have suggested exploitative - drawings of his models have altered the nature of the traditional respect paid to this eminent artist.
- Rodin stripped away many of the narative references to classical myth that were still attached to academic sculpture in the late-19th century and placed a new stress on the dignity of simple human moments. The fame of works such as The Kiss (1884), The Thinker (1880), and The Age of Bronze (1876) has transformed such depictions into paragons of high art, yet until Rodin's age, such sculpture's importance and novelty was not appreciated. Instead of representing gods or muses, he sculpted lifelike figures in distinctly modern attitudes of love, thought, and proud physicality.
- Rodin's achievement as a sculptor was to find a way to make the brute materiality of sculpture express the fleeting mobility of the modern individual. To achieve this, he abandoned the polished and idealized figures of academic sculpture and produced rougher, more unfinished surfaces, which better expressed restlessness, corporeality, and movement. While this often suggests psychological agitation, it also evokes the constant motion characteristic of life in modern times.
- Rodin's work process often encouraged him to reuse compositions in different ways. Most famously, figures that appear in his The Gates of Hell were often rendered at later dates, created separately and at different scales. But Rodin would also represent the same figure multiple times in the same sculpture or fragment figures into individual body parts like hands or arms. All of these processes were encouraged by his very unclassical approach to composition, and they produced strange and jarring effects.
Biography of Auguste Rodin
Rodin was born in a poor area of Paris's fifth arrondissement to Jean-Baptiste Rodin, an office clerk in the local police station, and Marie Cheffer, his second wife. Despite Jean-Baptiste's modest earnings, he and Marie attempted to provide a bourgeois upbringing by sending Rodin to a boarding school in Beauvais. He was not a successful student, perhaps in part because of his shortsightedness. In 1854, aged 13, he decided to pursue a career in the arts, attending the École Spéciale de Dessin et de Mathematiques (or "Petite École," to distinguish it from the Grande École des Beaux-Arts), which trained boys in the decorative arts.
Important Art by Auguste Rodin
A young officer was the model for this sculpture, which provided the first great succès de scandale, or "success of a scandal," of Rodin's career. The composition and rough surface of the figure were unconventional by academic standards. The subject also remained obscure - the title only vaguely suggesting classical art - and prompted confusion among critics; rather than clothe his image of man in respected symbolism, Rodin had presented a common man, naked. But controversy ultimately centered on allegations that the piece was a direct cast from the body rather than a modeled sculpture. The allegations were a testament to Rodin's technical skills, though the suggestion that he had somehow cheated heartily offended the sculptor, who was able to disprove the claim with photographs of his model.
Rodin labored on this mammoth project for over twenty years. It was commissioned in 1880 as a set of doors for the planned Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, but the museum never came to be, and he never finished the sculpture to his satisfaction. It is believed that Rodin chose to draw on Dante's Inferno for the subject matter. It was a deliberate attempt to rival Lorenzo Ghiberti's famous bronze doors for the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral, the Gates of Paradise (1425-52), the competition for which is often said to have initiated the Renaissance. Rodin initially planned to split the composition into a series of panels, just as Ghiberti had done, but after looking at images of Michelangelo's Last Judgment (1534-41), he opted for a more fluid arrangement of figures. When the plans for the museum were cancelled, Rodin's urge to complete the sculpture waned, and work dragged on. He exhibited a plaster version of the sculpture at an exhibition at the Place de l'Alma in Paris in 1900, but it was not until 1925, eight years after his death, that two bronze casts were created.
Although The Gates of Hell was never completed to Rodin's satisfaction in his own lifetime, his work on the project did inspire many other finished works, and The Thinker is the most famous example. Deriving from a figure at the top of the sculpture who gazes with melancholy over the hellish scenes below him, he represents Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy that inspired The Gates of Hell (1899). Highly influenced by Michelangelo, the figure also represents modern, secular man - strong in mind and body, but lonely and doubtful in the position he has created for himself as master of his own universe. Although the seated figure is deeply lost in thought, the dynamic pose gives him a sense of movement. At first glance, the pose appears natural, but in fact the man's right arm on his left knee is twisted in an exaggerated fashion. Over fifty casts were made of this sculpture, which are today scattered throughout the world, making it one of Rodin's most famous works. Rodin also chose The Thinker as his tombstone.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Auguste Rodin
- Rodin: The Shape of GeniusBy Ruth Butler
- RodinOur PickBy Bernard Champigneulle
- Rodin: A BiographyBy Frederic V. Grunfeld
- Rodin: The Zola of SculptureBy Claudine Mitchell
- Auguste Rodin: Sculptures and DrawingsBy Gilles Neret
- Auguste RodinOur PickBy Rainer Maria Rilke
- Auguste Rodin (The Life and Work Of...)By Richard Tames
- Apropos RodinBy Jennifer Gough-Cooper, Geoff Dyer
- Auguste RodinBy Irene Korn
- RodinOur PickBy Raphael Masson, Veronique Mattiussi, Jacques Vilain
- Rodin: A Magnificent ObsessionBy Merrell Publishers
- Auguste Rodin: Drawings & WatercolorsBy Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, Christina Buley-Uribe
- Rodin: The Gates of HellBy Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, Auguste Rodin
- Rodin: His Art and His InspirationBy Catherine Lampert, Antoinette Romain
- Leaving Rodin Behind? Sculpture in Paris, 1905-1914Musée d'Orsay / March 10, 2009
- Being and Becoming: Compact, Heady Show Tries to Suggest How a Sculptor Became a MasterBy Deborah McLeod / Baltimore City Paper / August 22, 2007
- Born of Hell, Lost after Inferno: Rodin Work from Trade Center Survived, and VanishedBy Dan Barry and William K. Rashbaum / The New York Times / May 20, 2002
- Rodin and Michelangelo, Together at LastBy Grace Glueck / The New York Times / April 18, 1997
- A Glimpse of How a Masterpiece was MadeOur PickBy William Zimmer / The New York Times / March 2, 1997
- East meets West: Virgin and Child Ivory Carving