Auguste Rodin, 1840-1917
By Natasha Sivanandan
Francois Auguste Rodin, born on November 12th, 1840, is recognised globally as the progenitor of modern sculpture. His unique skill to create a sculptural surface that was turbulent and sensuous illustrated Rodin’s modern ambitions to free his work from allegory and idealisation. His sculptures range from pieces such as ‘The Age of Bronze’ (1840) to ‘The Thinker’ (1880) forming an oeuvre that can be viewed in many public and private collections worldwide because of its ability to be reproduced easily in both bronze and marble.
Born into a working-class family in Paris, he went on to attend the Petite Ecole at age 13. There he learnt techniques of copying acceptable styles of decorative art. However, his teacher Boisbaudran, encouraged Rodin to develop his own style and work from moving models and his memory. By 1857, Rodin won his first prize for sculpture and second for drawing, but failed three times to be admitted into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. For the next 20 years he was employed as a craftsman producing decorative objects to embellish buildings.
His first succes de scandale was his ‘Age of Bronze,’ which caught peoples’ attention because it unconventionally portrayed a generalised character, rather than a specific individual. In addition its representation of a strained but graceful body of a common man was deemed unusual. Though initial criticism arose from a suspicion that Rodin had relied on life casts, the accusation was proven false, and the sculpture was purchased by the state.
State patronage was a major source of income and support for Rodin, which included the his monumental ‘Gates of Hell,’ which were to be the bronze doors of the new decorative arts museum. However, he struggled with commissioned memorial statues. His ‘Victor Hugo’ (1883-85) was rejected by the commissioners who saw the nude rendition to be a degradation of their national hero. ‘Balzac’ (1898) also suffered severe criticism from the public. Rodin commented, however, that ‘Balzac, rejected or not, is none the less a line of demarcation between commercial sculpture and the sculpture that is art that we no longer have in Europe… My principle is to imitate not only form but life.’
Being a polarising figure in the history of art, Rodin solidified an eternal position in the progress of modern sculpture.
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Lampert, C. Rodin. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2006.