xxxxxThe works of the Frenchman Auguste Rodin, one of the world’s foremost sculptors, attracted controversy from his first major work, The Age of Bronze in 1877. Having visited Italy two years earlier and come under the influence of Michelangelo, he produced a string of figures and groups which broke away from the idealised statues of antiquity and the Baroque period, then much in favour. He sought to capture, through texture and modelling, the human strengths and weaknesses of his subjects, not merely a reproduction of their physical form. His was a psychological study, not simply an attempt at a superficial likeness. This “expressive naturalism” can be seen in such works as John the Baptist Preaching, the Burghers of Calais and two of his most famous works, The Thinker and The Kiss of 1886, both taken from his major undertaking, The Gates of Hell. His monuments of Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac also involved him in a great deal of controversy, but by 1900 he had gained international recognition as a sculptor of rare ability. Apart from thousands of figures and busts, he painted in oil and watercolour, and produced a vast number of drawings. His friends included the impressionists Monet and Cézanne, and the writers William Henley, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Browning, and he much admired the works of the French poet Baudelaire.
AUGUSTE RODIN 1840 -
Rodin: by the French photographer Paul Nadar (1856-
xxxxxAuguste Rodin, the foremost sculptor of the 19th century and early 20th century, was born in Paris, son of a clerk in the city’s police department. From early childhood he showed a marked ability at drawing, and at the age of 14 attended La Petite École, a school specialising in the training of craftsmen and decorative artists. He showed promise at this stage, notably in sculpture, but on completing his training in 1857 he made three unsuccessful attempts to gain entrance to the École des Beaux Arts, and was finally obliged to go out and earn a living. Forxthe next thirteen years he worked as an assistant to a number of decorators and ornamentalists, including the French sculptor Ernest Carrier-
xxxxxIn 1864 Rodin produced his first major work, a bust entitled The Man with the Broken Nose -
xxxxxRecognition of Rodin’s artistic ability came in 1877 when his young male nude entitled The Vanquished (illustrated) -
xxxxxIn the same year he began work on The Gates of Hell (illustrated), a monumental bronze door, commissioned by the French government for the planned Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. Doubtless inspired by Ghiberti’s bronze doors of 1423 (H6), he originally took as his theme Dante’s Inferno, but, following a visit to London in 1881, during which he saw many Pre-
xxxxxHis undertaking of The Gates of Hell gave him the use of two workshops, freed him from any money troubles, and brought him a succession of commissions for public monuments. But his works continued to be highly controversial, and many brought him into conflict with the art establishment, the public, and, at times, Parliament itself. The large bronze group entitled The Burghers of Calais, completed in 1888 but not dedicated until 1895, is one of his best known works of this period (illustrated below). Produced to commemorate, as we have seen, an incident in 1347 during The Hundred Years’ War, it is truly remarkable for the differing psychological studies of the six men as they shuffle towards their execution (as they then thought). No mock heroics here, but a genuine, moving portrayal of the event, captured in depth. But It was not fully appreciated at the time.
xxxxxThe Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso (1858-
xxxxxA contemporary sculptor who was a friend of Auguste Rodin for a time, and shared some aspects of his innovative style, was the Italian Medardo Rosso (1858-
xxxxxHe knew the writer Émile Zola, and was a particularly close friend of the artist Edgar Degas, but his friendship with Rodin, which began in 1894 and was based on mutual admiration for each other’s works, came to a sudden end four years later. It would seem that Rodin objected strongly to the suggestion that he had learnt certain techniques from his Italian friend.
xxxxxRosso was born in Turin but worked mainly in Milan. In the early years of his career he lived in abject poverty, but his fame and fortune steadily grew after his first major exhibition, held in Paris in 1889, and over the next fifteen years he exhibited his works in major cities across Europe and in New York. His work was particularly well received in France, whilst in Italy his personal style had a marked impact upon Italian sculpture.
xxxxxIllustrated here are his The Laughing Child (left above), The Caretaker (right above), a Self-
xxxxxThere followed the nude figure of Victor Hugo. This was rejected out of hand and it was not until 1909 before a second version, nude but seated, was accepted. Worse was to come. The large sculpture of Honoré de Balzac, completed in 1897 after a great deal of research, was regarded by Rodin as one of his finest works (illustrated above). A towering figure, clothed in a long cloak and with a large, impressive head, somewhat resembled an historic monolith -
xxxxxSuch virulent opposition is not difficult to understand. These works, and many of his others, broke free from the idealized figures of antiquity and the beauty of Baroque then in vogue. As a consequence they offended an art world and a general public that was taken by surprise. Rodin exerted a new boldness of style and expression which sought to capture, be it through texture, modelling or delicacy of form, the inner strengths and weaknesses of his subject, their human qualities rather than a mere reproduction of their physical form. His realism -
xxxxxHowever, despite the criticism levelled at his works -
xxxxxMeanwhile his large house at Meudon on the outskirts of Paris, bought in 1896, became something of a factory, a huge workshop where, under his guidance, some 50 assistants produced works in bronze and marble. Orders for portrait busts came from all over Europe and the United States, and distinguished visitors to Meudon included the British King Edward VII in May 1908. It was there, following a rapid deterioration in his general health and mental state, that Rodin died in 1917. Many attended his funeral, and a cast of The Thinker was placed next to his tomb.
xxxxxIn addition to his thousands of busts, figures and sculptural fragments, Rodin painted in oils and watercolour, worked on book illustrations, and produced thousands of prints and drawings in chalk or charcoal, many of which were mildly erotic. He also published a book on the Cathedrals of France in 1914. In a career spanning 50 years he came to know many of the writers and artists of his day. In 1789 he visited the impressionist painter Claude Monet at Giverny -
xxxxxIncidentally, Rodin’s artistic career was briefly interrupted on two occasions. In 1862, following the death of his sister, he became deeply distressed and withdrew to a monastery for a short time. Then with the outbreak of the Franco-
Xxxxx……xxIn 1879 his former master Carrier-
Xxxxx……xxWhen a bronze version of The Kiss was sent to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 it was considered too risqué for public display. It was put into a side chamber and seen only by request! ……
Xxxxx……xxIn 1903 Rodin was elected president of the International Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers (following on from James Whistler) and, four years later, along with the French composer Camille Saint-
xxxxx……xxRodin donated all his works and his considerable art collection to the state. Today there are two Rodin museums in France, one at his house in Meudon, just outside Paris, and the other at Hôtel Biron, a house he once rented in the city itself. All the major museums in the world have copies of his works, and museums dedicated to his sculptures are to be found at Philadelphia, San Francisco and Tokyo. ……
xxxxx…… Onexof Rodin’s love affairs was with a young woman named Camille Claudel (1864-
xxxxxTwo sculptors were particularly influenced by Rodin during his lifetime. ThexFrenchman Antoine Bourdelle (1861-