WHO WAS AUGUSTE RODIN?
Rodin, while his reputation wavered and diminished in the decades immediately following his death, has once again risen to prominence due to the revolutionary style of his sculpting and is often hailed as one of the most important sculptors of the modern age. The feeling of incompleteness that he left many of his works with contributed significantly to the more abstract sculptural forms taking hold throughout the 20th century and he has left an indelible impact on sculpting to this very day. Rodin’s genius will be remembered for some time, and his contributions are timeless.
François Auguste René Rodin was born on November 12th, 1840 in Paris into a working class family. A self-educated student, he began to draw at the age of ten and between the ages of 14 and 17, he attended the Petite École, a school specializing in art and mathematics.
In 1857, Rodin attempted to gain entrance into the École des Beaux-Arts and submitted a clay model of a companion of his to be judged. He did not succeed and two further applications we also denied. These were considerable setbacks since the requirements for entry into the school were not particularly stringent. Rodin would live as a craftsman and ornamenter for two decades afterwards as a means of making a continual living.
After his younger sister passed away in 1862, Rodin felt incredibly guilty and went on to join a Catholic order, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, where the head of the organization recognized his considerable talents sculpting and also a relative unsuitability for the order. He would council Rodin to continue with his art. From here, Rodin would take classes with Antoine-Louis Barye, whose attention to detail would significantly influence Rodin’s own works.
In 1864, Rodin submitted his first sculpture for exhibition and entered the studio of Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a successful mass producer of art. There, Rodin would work as an assistant until 1870, designing architectural elements.
Poverty was an issue for Auguste Rodin for a large chunk of his life, and many of his works at the time were not cast due to a lack of funds. Although still employed with various crafting jobs, it was not until he visited Italy in 1875, and was heavily affected by Michelangelo, that his work took on a new dimension. It was in this year that he began The Age of Bronze, and Rodin finally began to receive attention for his work.
In 1880, Auguste Rodin finally gained the autonomy he strove so heavily to attain and won bids for various commissions. He dedicated the next four decades to The Gates of Hell which was intended as a large sculpting enterprise incorporating pieces such as The Thinker and The Kiss, but instead ended up with these pieces being separate works in themselves.
The Thinker is usually placed on a stone pedestal and shows the image of a male slumped over in thought, hand on chin and if often used to represent Philosophy.
It was originally named The Poet because of its intention to represent Dante composing the Inferno and also appears at the top of the Gates of Hell – since Dante himself is a main character in the epic poem. The Thinker is unique in that Rodin made at least ten castings of the piece in his time, and it is showcased around the world, from Melbourne to France, to Washington, D.C. Rodin would later elect to use The Thinker as his tombstone.
Auguste Rodin understood the success of this piece, and would say of it,
“What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils, and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes."
The Kiss similarly, was also inspired by Dante’s Inferno and depicts Francesca da Rimini who falls in love with her husband’s younger brother. The lovers’ lips do not quite touch in the sculpture, which suggests an element of surprise due to an interruption.
Rodin believed that he was honouring the bodies of women due to his attention to detail, and considered women as full partners and not simply submissive figures and the consequent eroticism of the piece made it controversial – this caused the work to be ushered inside generally, and was considered unsuitable for a general audience.
Eventually, at 77 in 1917, Auguste Rodin married his longtime partner, Rose Beuret, who would, unfortunately, die two weeks after the ceremony. Rodin himself followed suit and passed away due to weakness caused by the flu in his home in Meudon, Île-de-France later that year.
- The Thinker is originally part of a much bigger work, The Gates of Hell and is supposed to symbolize Dante Alighieri dreaming up the Inferno
- He appreciated literature and in fact created a Monument to Balzac, even if this piece wasn’t well received – his studies of the man were distorted and were met with ridicule and outrage.
- The Salon rejected one of his earliest pieces, Man with a Broken Nose, which was a bust of an old street porter.
- The Thinker was purposefully made in a similar style as the Renaissance nude, with Michelangelo being a primary influence
- Due to a new technological innovation called the Collas Machine, Rodin’s works were much more easily able to be cast and allowed Rodin to create larger versions of his sculptures.
As with so many other artists, Rodin’s genius was not typically well received initially. Being often rejected by official academies, Auguste Rodin had to spend much of his time labouring as an ornamental scholar before his success caught up with him. Of course, by the time of his death, his accomplishments were numerous and powerful enough for him to be compared with Michelangelo – it is not an understatement to say he was the main contributor to the modern sculpture movement and today his reputation remains strong enough to be a recognizable artist to the general public. For his contributions to the progression of sculpting and the power of his work, Musart is proud to showcase Rodin.