Auguste Rodin was a French sculptor of sumptuous bronze and marble figures, and considered by some critics to be the greatest portraitist in the history of sculpture.

Rodin was born into a poor area of Paris to an office clerk father and housewife mother. Despite his family’s modest earnings, they attempted to provide Rodin with a better upbringing by sending him to boarding school. This did not prove successful and by the age of 13, he decided to pursue a career in arts and attended the Ecole Speciale de Dessin which trained boys in the decorative arts.

Auguste Rodin. Credit: musee-rodin.fr

After a few years studying drawing and sculpture, Rodin applied for Grand Ecole which he did not pass- perhaps because his style did not suit the school. Although he disliked working for others, he took a few jobs in plaster workshops to create architectural ornaments. He worked in these establishments for over 20 years and in his own time he continued to make sculptures including a portrait bust called The Man with the Broken Nose (1864). He considered this the best of his work and submitted it to the Paris Salon who rejected it.

The Man with the Broken Nose. Credit: musee-rodin.fr

After serving in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Rodin returned to Brussels where he began working with successful commercial sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. He created a life size sculpture of a young officer which he called The Age of Bronze (1876) and this proved to be the turning point of his career. The Paris Salon finally accepted his work where it was purchased by the Secretary of the Ministry of Fine Arts who asked Rodin to create a monumental bronze doorway for a planned museum. This project was Rodin’s greatest work, though the planned museum was cancelled and The Gates of Hell were not even cast until Rodin’s death although this did inspire many other sculptures of his including The Thinker.

The Gates of Hell. Credit: musee-rodin.fr

By 1899, Rodin had a large studio with several assistants. His work continued to elicit trouble and scandal such as The Burghers of Calais (1889) which was nearly refused due to its depiction of the city’s heroes as dejected victims. Rodin’s pace slowed down after the scandal of his sculptures, but he had achieved financial success. He started to exhibit his works across the world and moved into the now famous Hotel Biron which became his new studio and later a museum of his works.

While Rodin’s reputation declined in the years before his death, his rebellion against academic standards planted a seed for new French sculpture. Today, nearly every large art museum owns a casting of one of his sculptures and exhibitions of his work are held regularly making Rodin one of the few artists recognisable to the general public.

 

 

The Thinker. Credit: musee-rodin.fr

You can visit the Musee Rodin in Paris or find current or upcoming exhibitions here.

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