Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)


Known for his immaculately depicted, lifelike bronze sculptures, Auguste Rodin is undeniably one of the greatest sculptors in the history of art.  Today, his works are so universally accepted as masterpieces that it is hard to believe they were originally met with scepticism for their revolutionary departure from the predominant style in 19th century France.

Born in 1840 in Paris, Auguste Rodin showed an affinity towards art very early in life, beginning to draw at age 10.  He was educated at la Petit Ecole and in 1857, after leaving school, found work as a craftsman.  Between 1864 and 1870, he worked under Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse as a decorator and craftsman of architectural embellishments.  In 1880 he took a part time position, again under Carrier-Belleuse, as a designer in the Sèvres porcelain factory.  Throughout this period, Rodin was working in his own time to further his career as an artist and was producing some of his first groundbreaking sculptures.

In 1864, he made his first submission to the Paris Salon and was rejected.  The work, entitled The Man with the Broken Nose was a bust of a neighbourhood handyman.  The work was very realistic and portrayed a depth of emotion that is prevalent in all of his later works.  Finally, he submitted a work in 1877 which was accepted to the salon, but was not reviewed favourably by the critics.  The work, entitled The Age of Bronze depicts a life size male nude in a very realistic style.  The basis for the criticism was exactly this realism; the critics believed that Rodin took a cast from a live model.  This was a very serious allegation, which Rodin denied vehemently.  He was exonerated by a committee of his peers soon after the exhibition.

Rodin's mastery of light, shadow and movement paired with his intensely realistic depictions were a departure from the predominant style of sculpture in that era.  French sculpture of the 19th century was dominated by heavily stylised depictions of sentimental figures, mostly in the neoclassical vein.  Seen within this context, it is clear to see how his early works were often viewed unfavorably by critics.

By 1880, Rodin had achieved recognition for his sculpture and was bestowed a commission by the French Ministry of Fine Arts to design an entryway for their proposed Museum of Decorative Arts.  The museum was never realized, but Rodin continued to work on this project for 37 years, until his death in 1917.  Rodin chose Dante's Inferno from his Divine Comedy as his theme for the monumental project, The Gates of Hell.  The gates depict many scenes from Dante's Inferno in low and high relief.  Many of his most recognizable works such as The Kiss and The Thinker began as small vignettes in this work.  By the turn of the century, Rodin gained an international reputation and began producing works full time in his workshop where he employed various craftsmen to help him in the production process.

Rodin was a prolific artist, producing thousands of sculpted forms, watercolours, charcoal drawings, oil paintings and prints.  Unlike many artists, Rodin achieved fame in his lifetime and was widely regarded as the greatest sculptor of the era.  In 1916 the Musee Rodin was founded in the Hôtel Biron where Rodin had lived and upon his death in 1917, his estate was donated to the French state to support and enhance the museum.

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