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.  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. Finally, he submitted a work in 1877 which was accepted to the salon, but then was not reviewed favourably by the critics.  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 had been dominated with heavily stylised depictions of sentimental figures, mostly in the neoclassical vein.  Seen within this context, it is clear to see how Rodin was viewed with scepticism in his early career.


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.