Auguste Rodin (November 12, 1840 – November 17, 1917) was a French sculptor.
Born François-Auguste-René Rodin, in Paris, France, he stands at the culmination of the figurative tradition in sculpture, as after him sculptors increasingly turned towards abstraction. One of his early works, The Age of Bronze, created during his years in Belgium, looked so realistic that the sculptor was accused of surmoulage (taking plaster moulds from the live model). Rodin struggled to clear his name and in 1880 was awarded the commission to create a portal for the planned Museum of Decorative Arts. Although the Museum was never built, Rodin worked nearly all his life on his major work, The Gates of Hell, depicting scenes from Dante's Inferno in high relief. Many of his best-known sculptures, like The Thinker (Le Penseur in French, originally titled The Poet, representing the poet Dante) and The Kiss (Le Baiser) were originally designed as figures for this monumental landscape of eternal passion and punishment, and only later presented as works in their own right. Other well-known works derived from The Gates are: the Ugolino group, Fugitive Love, The Falling Man, The Sirens, Fallen Caryatid Carrying her Stone, Damned Women, The Standing Fauness, The Kneeling Fauness, The Martyr, She Who Once Was the Beautiful Helmetmaker's Wife, Glaucus, Polyphem. Through his method of marcottage, the artist would use the same sculptural elements time and time again, under different names and in different combinations.
Instead of copying traditional academic postures, Rodin preferred to work with amateurs models, street performers, acrobats, strong men and dancers. In his atelier, these models would walk around freely while the sculptor made quick sketches in clay, which were later eventually worked out, cast in plaster, and translated into bronze or marble. All his life, Rodin was fascinated by dance and spontaneous movement; his John the Baptist shows a walking preacher, displaying two phases of the same stride simultaneously.
In 1883, Rodin agreed to supervise Boucher's sculpture course during his absence and so met the 18 year old sculptress Camille Claudel. Rodin fell in love with his talented pupil, Camille recognized her chance to be tutored by the greatest sculptor talent of her time, who was just breaking through to fame. They became a creative and erotic couple; Camille inspired Rodin as a model for many of his tragic love couples and assisted him during his work on another important commission, The Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais). Although they shared an atelier at a little old castle at 68 Boulevard d´Italie, Paris, Rodin refused to give up his ties with Rose Beuret, his loyal companion during his years of poverty in Belgium and mother of their son Auguste-Eugène Beuret, born Jan. 18, 1866. A contract in which Rodin promised to give up all contact with other women, and marry Camille, was never fulfilled. After nearly 15 years, the couple broke up; Camille went her own artistic way, but found herself isolated. Rodin, commissioned to create a Monument to Victor Hugo, in the 1890's extensively dealt with the subject of Artist and Muse, reflecting the various aspects of his stormy and complex relationship with Camille: The Poet and Love, The Genius and Pity, The Sculptor and his Muse. Like many of Rodin's public commissions, the Mounument to Victor Hugo met resistance, because it did not fit conventional expectations; the 1897 plaster model was only cast in bronze in 1964.
Rodin's Monument to Balzac, exhibited at the 1898 Salon at the Champ des Mars, showing the writer in his morning frock, was repudiated as well. After this frustrating experience, Rodin did not finish any public commissions any more. Instead, after 1903 he had his most successful works enlarged to monumental dimensions; as France's most famous artist, he could afford to have a large staff of pupils and craftsmen working for him. He also created a large number of society portrait busts, especially for wealthy American collectors, and began presenting fragmentary sculptures, which in his opinion contained the essence of his artistic statement, like Meditation without Arms, Iris, Messenger of the Gods or The Walking Man.
During his last creative years, Rodin concentrated on small dance studies (ca. 1915) and produced large numbers of erotic drawings, sketched in a loose way, without taking his pencil from the paper (and his eyes from the model). An exhibition of these drawings in Weimar in 1906 caused the so-called Kessler scandal: Harry Count Kessler was dismissed as the Curator of the Weimar Museum.
On Jan. 29, 1917, Rodin finally married Rose Beuret, who died two weeks later. Auguste Rodin died on Nov. 17, 1917. A cast of The Thinker was placed next to their tomb in Meudon, Île-de-France, France.
The Musée Rodin in Paris was founded to administer and exhibit the huge body of work (over 5,000 plaster items, over 1,000 bronze sculptures, ca. 8,000 drawings, and as many photographs) Rodin left to the French Government by several deeds of donation, shortly before his death. A part of this collection is shown at the Hôtel Biron, much of it displayed in a lovely outdoor garden. The plaster collection is mainly kept at the Villa des Brillants in Meudon, a suburb of Paris, where Rodin lived and worked during the last decades of his life.
With his works, Rodin also transferred the rights of reproduction to the Musée Rodin. According to the French Law (Decree Nr. 81.255 of 3 March 1981), only 12 copies of each work can be issued as an "original edition". Although the copyright to Rodin's work has expired in 1987, 70 years after the artist's death, according to French Law the Musée Rodin still exerts the droit moral, the moral right, to prevent damage to the artist's good name by copies of inferior quality.
One of Rodin's 1889 sculptures was used by the rock band Black Sabbath as the cover art for their 1987 album of the same name, The Eternal Idol .
Where to find Rodin's sculptures
- Musée Rodin, Paris, France
- Rodin Museum , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
- A bust of Joseph Pulitzer by the artist is in the World Room of Journalism Hall at Columbia University
- Sculpture Garden, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA
- California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, USA
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California
- Public displays:
Rodin the artist should not be confused with Rodan the monster.