Auguste Rodin | French, 1840-1917

Auguste Rodin is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most prolific sculptors of the twentieth century. His artworks were so innovative and unconventional that Parisian art critics initially denounced them. Despite these rejections, Rodin’s works were well received outside of France and eventually won the recognition of his nation.

Born in Paris in 1840, Rodin expressed an interest in art from an early age. At the age of fourteen he attended ‘la Petite École’, a school for drawing and mathematics. However, in 1862 devastated by the death of his beloved sister, Rodin turned towards religion and joined the Order of the Holy Sacrament. The following year, he realised that religion was not his calling, and returned to Paris.

After a brief period as a corporal in the French National Guard, Rodin travelled to Belgium and then Italy, where he studied Michelangelo’s works. He was greatly impressed and influenced by the Italian sculptor’s portrayal of muscles and human body. Contrary to the artistic tradition of his time, Rodin believed that sculptures should reflect the subjects as they truly are, and not as the ideal that they could be.

In 1877, Rodin exhibited his masterpiece L’Age d’Airain’ also known as ‘the Age of Bronze’ in Brussels and Paris. This realistic sculpture was not well received, as critics accused him of casting it directly from living models, instead of sculpting it. In time, Rodin’s true genius was recognised and the French government purchased it as the first state acquisition of his work. In 1880, the government commissioned Rodin to sculpt the entrance of the planned Museum of Decorative Arts. This project, called ‘La Porte de l’Enfer’ or ‘The Gates of Hell’ was inspired by ‘The Inferno’, the first chapter of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The museum site was later moved from the banks of Seine to the Louvre, and Rodin’s commission was cancelled.

Despite the setback, Rodin continued to work on this project and created one hundred and eighty-six figures. These mainly represent scenes and characters from the famous poem. Some of them, such as ‘The Thinker’, a portrayal of Dante himself, and Adam and Eve, are amongst Rodin’s most celebrated artworks. ‘The Kiss’ was originally part of ‘The Gates of Hell’ until Rodin decided that the sculpture’s joyful nature conflicted with the theme. Rodin never finished the project and the statues were cast in bronze only after his death.

Rodin’s most controversial artwork, ‘Balzac Nude’, was created for a commission in 1891. This sculpture of the famous French writer drew criticisms and hateful comments from French papers for the next decade. Eventually, the commission was given to another sculptor and the resulting statue was installed at the Avenue Friedland in 1902. Rodin refused to sell his Balzac despite numerous offers. It was not until many years after his death that the sculpture was placed at the intersection of Boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse and appreciated for the masterpiece that it truly is.

By the early twentieth century, Rodin was so established that the Paris World Exhibition gave him his own pavilion where he exhibited 170 sculptures. Major museums and collectors from around the world acquired his artworks which brought him huge acclaim and financial success.

In 1908 Rodin moved his studio to the ground floor of the Biron Hotel, which was later established as the official Rodin Museum in 1919. Rodin died here on November 17, 1917 at the age of 77.