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Who was Auguste Rodin?

Updated on December 2, 2016

Auguste Rodin was a French sculptor. Born Paris, France, November 12, 1840. Died Meudon, France, November 17, 1917.

Rodin succeeded in liberating sculpture from the academic traditions that had bound it since the 18th century. He rejected the concept that sculptural surfaces must be smoothly rounded. Instead, he freely shaped the surfaces of his clay, bronze, and marble statues to create the effects of living flesh, tense muscle, and crumpled cloth. Like the Impressionist painters, he was interested in the effects of changing light, and he molded his forms so that highlights and shadows would play dramatically on their surfaces. To give his sculptures character and individuality, Rodin often distorted and exaggerated the faces and bodies of his subjects. He also suggested motion by portraying his figures in animated and highly realistic attitudes. He frequently emphasized spontaneity by leaving his figures half finished in masses of uncut rock, as in his sculpture The Hand of God (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City). His other celebrated works include The Kiss (Rodin Museum, Paris) and The Thinker (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

The Career of Auguste Rodin

Rodin began his training at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and also studied under the French sculptor Antoine Louis Barye. His first exhibit in 1864 was a failure, and he was forced to earn his living as a porcelain maker and architectural sculptor. In 1870 he went to Brussels, where he studied medieval art.

In 1874, Rodin made a trip to Italy, where he was especially inspired by the works of the great Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo. Shortly afterward he produced his first major work, a highly realistic nude figure entitled The Age of Bronze (one casting in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts). When it was exhibited in France in 1877, critics mistakenly thought that it had been cast from a live model. The statue, however, was favorably received and bought by the French government, and Rodin's career was launched.

He was given a free studio in Paris, and in 1880 he received a commission to make a pair of sculptured bronze doors for the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Rodin's design for the portals, which he called The Gates of Hell, was based on scenes from Dante's Inferno and other literary works. Although he never completed the work, The Gates of Hell (model in the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, Pa.) became the source of several large allegorical sculptures. They include the beautiful marble carving The Kiss and the brooding figure of The Thinker, which was cast in bronze.

Even after Rodin's reputation was well established, his portrait sculptures of famous literary figures, notably of Honore de Balzac (Museum of Modern Art, New York City) and Victor Hugo, were rejected by the groups that had commissioned them. One of the great masterpieces of his later years was a group sculpture, The Burghers of Calais (Calais, France). In 1900, when a large retrospective exhibition of his works was held in Paris, his genius was internationally acclaimed. He then bequeathed his works to the French nation.

Importance

In his sculptures, Rodin gave powerful expression to the struggles and emotions of modern man. His works have had an enormous influence on contemporary sculptors, including Jacob Epstein, Constantin Brancusi, and Jacques Lipchitz. Rodin was not only the most important sculptor of his age, but he ranks among the greatest artists in history.

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