Auguste Rodin

Auguste Rodin

François-Auguste-René Rodin (Paris, November 12, 1840-Meudon, November 17, 1917), better known as Auguste Rodin, was a French sculptor. Considered the father of modern sculpture, his importance is due to his break with the academic canon that prevailed in 19th century France.

This does not mean that the artist did not know or master the rules of the aesthetics of his time, but rather that his conception of art allowed him to inaugurate a new stage in the field of sculpture.

When Rodin entered the Parisian art scene of the mid-nineteenth century, sculpture in academic texts was defined as "a selective and palpable imitation of nature. " By the time of Rodin's death, the concept of sculpture had been redefined as "something that imitates life through the amplification and exaggeration of the whole. "

Biography of Auguste Rodin

The formative years (1840-1880).

Auguste Rodin was born in Paris on November 12, 1840 to a modest family, in a house on rue de l'Arbalète in the 5th arrondissement of the Parisian capital.

His father, Jean-Baptiste, was of Norman origin; he had settled in Paris since 1830 and worked as an errand boy at the Prefecture of Police. His mother, Marie Cheffer, was from Lorraine. From his father's first marriage to Gabrielle Cateneau, he had a half-sister named Clothilde who seems to have been estranged from the family after Jean-Baptiste's second marriage. Auguste also had an older sister named Marie.

In 1848 Rodin entered the Frères de la doctrine chrétienne school in Nancy and in 1850 he began drawing after leaving that school.

From 1851 to 1854 he attended school in Beauvais. His interest toward the arts was revealed at an early age; at fourteen his father sent him to the Imperial Special School of Drawing and Mathematics, known as the Petite École, École Impériale Spéciale de Dessin et de Mathématiques, where he learned to model and draw from memory under the tutelage of the painter Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran under traditional techniques and won prizes.

He tried to enter the École des Beaux-Arts three times but was unsuccessful; for this reason he began his career outside institutional channels by studying anatomy with Antoine Louise Barye at the National Museum of Natural History. A plasterer by the name of Constant would share with him his secrets about sculptural modeling, as Rodin himself stated.

In 1855, after winning a bronze medal in his drawing class, he began modeling in clay and around this time spent time practicing his skills at the Louvre8 and the Prints Gallery of the Imperial Library. In 1857 he made decorative sculptures and participated in the urban reconstruction of Paris as an assistant to Georges-Eugène Haussmann.

In 1860 he made the first surviving sculpture by the author, the Bust of Jean-Baptiste Rodin, his father. Neoclassical in style, the work was never exhibited during the artist's lifetime.

In 1862 his sister Marie died at the age of twenty-six and to overcome this loss, the sculptor joined the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in that year, where he received the nickname of Brother Augustine.

He met Jean-Bauptiste Carpeaux in 1863, a stage that corresponds to the gestation of the work The Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose. Fundamental to understand the aesthetics that would characterize Rodin's work, the artist himself defined it as his first great sculpture.

It was rejected by the jury of the Paris Salon in 1865; the work represents Bibi, a man from a Parisian neighborhood whose life is narrated in the hard furrows of his face. It was not until 1875 that the marble version carved by Léon Fourquet was accepted. This would be Rodin's first work to be recognized by the Academy.

To support himself, the young Rodin did decorative art work; he collaborated with the sculptor Ernest-Albert Carrier-Belleuse, who, in the manner of a guild workshop, signed some of his works.

At the age of twenty-four he met Rose Beuret, who would become the companion of his life and model for some of his most famous portraits such as Mignon. From this relationship was born his son Auguste-Eugène who took the surname Beuret since he did not recognize him.

Rejected from the army for myopia, the artist could not participate in the Franco-Prussian War that broke out in 1870, and met with Carrier-Belleuse in Brussels; the two artists collaborated in the construction of some works such as those made for the city's Stock Exchange, until in 1873 their relationship was strained.

Carrier-Belleuse returned to the French capital while Rodin became associated with the sculptor Antoine-Joseph Van Rasbourgh and produced some works such as the busts Suzon and Dosia, as well as some portraits such as Doctor Thiriar and De Vigne.

Allegories of the Arts and Sciences for the Palace of the Academy, two Allegories of the Provinces for the Royal Palace, Beethoven's Head for the Courtyard of the Royal Conservatory of Music and three figures for the Monument to the burgomaster J.F. Loos were also produced during this period.

In 1874, in opposition to the Salon, a group of rebellious artists exhibited in the Parisian studio of Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, known as Nadar, at 32 Boulevard des Capucins. Among them were Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas and Cézanne.

They would form the Société Anonyme des Painters, Sculptors and Engravers. Meanwhile, Rodin was still in Brussels and in June 1875 he began working with a Belgian soldier, Auguste Nyet, who was to be the model for the work The Bronze Age.

Fundamental to his artistic formation and growth was the trip he undertook to Italy. There he had the opportunity to become acquainted with the great Renaissance masters, particularly the work of Donatello and Michelangelo.

In a letter to Rose from Italy, Rodin wrote:

you cannot judge something at first sight, but you will not be surprised if I tell you that I have been studying Michelangelo since my first hour in Florence and I believe that the great magician is revealing to me some of his secrets.

Once back in Brussels he finished the plaster of The Bronze Age which he exhibited in 1877 at the Artistic and Literary Circle. He presented it in April at the Salon des Artistes Français where its perfection divided the critics. As Rilke would affirm:

The Bronze Age proved its unlimited mastery over the body. [...] The most severe eye could not discover in this statue any space that was less living, less precise or less clear than the others.

A journalist from L'Étoile Belge, regarding the sculpture, wrote: It is endowed with a quality as rare as it is precious: life. Such vitality made the critics think that the molds had been assembled directly from the body of the model and not from a clay made by the artist, as must be done in the bronze casting method. This opinion raised rumors from which Rodin had to defend himself;

such an accusation was dishonorable for any sculptor and Rodin, who had the help of influential friends, such as the Impressionist painter and sculptor Edgar Degas, managed to emerge from the dispute not only victorious, but with a fame that immediately placed him among the most important artists in Paris.

It is worth mentioning that he had devoted much of his youth to accumulating knowledge of human anatomy, which on more than one occasion earned him the envy and displeasure of the sculptors recognized by the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris.

The Bronze Age would be decisive for his future as an artist.

The old man who met Delacroix as a young man lived long and long enough to converse with Matisse, Maillol and Brancusi, and also, in a surprise encounter like some of his sculptural juxtapositions, was photographed by Diego Rivera, commented John L. Tancock, one of his scholars.

Auguste Rodin is consensually accepted as a precursor of various 20th century sculptural styles, rather than as a 19th century author.

Artistic Maturity (1880-1900)

The controversy surrounding the work The Bronze Age aroused great interest in Rodin. It seemed surprising that someone who had never studied at the Academy could sculpt such perfect forms. In May 1880 the state bought the statue and from then on Rodin received several commissions.

On August 16 of the same year, Edmund Turquet, undersecretary of Public Instruction and Fine Arts, commissioned a decorative door representing Dante's Divine Comedy for the future Museum of Decorative Arts; they arranged for a workshop where he could work on this project, the Dépôt de Marbres on Rue de l'Université.

Named The Door to Hell, the work represented the artist's greatest plastic challenge. From it derived his most emblematic sculptures such as The Thinker, The Kiss and Ugolino and His Children. These were presented for the first time in a large exhibition held at the Georges Petit Gallery in 1886. Although the project was canceled, the artist worked on it until the end of his life.

In 1883 Rodin met Camille Claudel, who would soon become his collaborator, muse and lover. In her own right, the artist managed to find her artistic autonomy and in 2017 a museum was dedicated to her in Nogent-sur-Seine in the Champagne region.

Among the intellectual elite Rodin met thanks to his popularity, he had several admirers, Octave Mirbeau among them; the two met in 1884 and the following year the French poet described The Door in the newspaper La France.

The year 1889 marked a second stage of recognition for Rodin's work. The Georges Petit Gallery devoted a retrospective exhibition of thirty-six sculptures to him along with seventy canvases by the Impressionist painter Claude Monet. The exhibition catalog paid tribute to the artists' work with texts written by Octave Mirabeau.

The Monet and Rodin exhibition

Monet asserted himself as head of the group of Impressionist painters who used to exhibit at the Salon des Refusés since 1863. Rodin always stayed away from these salons. Monet's work was already recognized and Rodin's was barely known. Claude Monet wrote to Rodin on April 12, 1889 to agree on the conditions for renting the gallery.

Ten percent of sales would go to Monsieur Petit. The two artists knew little of each other but they tried to understand each other and succeeded in making the exhibition. 

During the installation of the works, Rodin's attitude surprised his friends Octave Mirbeau and Gustave Geffroy because the sculptor noticed that Monet's large canvases occupied almost the entire exhibition space.

Rodin angrily demanded that the location of the sculptures be changed. The shy and reserved man broke the silence to impose his work. When Monet arrived at the exhibition, he noticed the changes in the installation and expressed his disagreement with the new location of the pieces.

The opening day was June 21, 1889, and the artistic and literary circles of the city of Paris came to admire the exhibition. Octave Mirbeau referred to the exhibition as "A colossal event, an overwhelming success. It is they who, in this century, embody in the most glorious way, in the most definitive way, these two magnificent arts: painting and sculpture". 

In the catalog of the event, Rodin marked with the word "studio" most of his sculptures. Some of them would later take names. Among the sculptures exhibited by Rodin were: The Danaid and The Eternal Idol.

Some critics were astonished to see together the two artists who have nothing in common but the year of birth: 1840. There were those who classified Rodin as a romantic because of the emphasis he gives to form, the immoderation and the start of his pieces.

Others saw in him an impressionist sculptor because of the play of light and shadow present in his pieces. In this aspect, his work is related to that of Monet, who captured in his canvases the fleetingness of the instant.

The exhibition was a great success and received a large number of visitors. The critics of the time say that the spectators hesitated and whispered when appreciating such a new language. In front of Monet's canvases some exclaimed: "there is nothing to see" and in front of Rodin's sculpture many declared "it is not finished". The sculptor responded to these statements by saying: "Is nature finished?

After the exhibition Rodin made a tour of the Loire-et-Cher and the south of France. The artist gained prestige and was asked to exhibit in other venues. The worker-modeler asserted himself as one of the great sculptors of his generation and received important official commissions. 

Another major commission came in 1885 when Rodin was chosen for the realization of a monument in honor of The Burghers of Calais, whose epic story took place during the Hundred Years' War (1339-1453).

The project was unveiled in Place Richelieu, now Boulevard Clemenceau, in front of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, ten years after its commission. Critics were divided because of the work's distance from academic canons. I never hesitated to make them as thin and weak as possible, said the artist.

Despite the controversies, there was no lack of recognition; after honoring him as Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor, one of the highest distinctions granted by the French State, in 1893 he was named vice-president of the National Society of Fine Arts.

To be more in touch with nature, an essential part of his creative process, in 1895 Rodin bought the Villa de Brillantes in Meudon, a small town on the outskirts of Paris. There he began to collect antiques that are still preserved today and that give evidence of the classical inspiration of his works.

Among the promoters of his art, the patron Maurice Fenaille contributed in 1897 to the publication of a volume of 142 drawings made by the artist with an introduction written by Octave Mirbeau; it became known as Album Goupil in reference to the publishing house.

That same year, the artist participated in the second edition of what would become the famous Venice Biennale and in Germany he appreciated the work Parsifal by the composer Richard Wagner.

Among the publications about the artist are two books from 1903: Auguste Rodin, a rush through the life of Judith Cladel, and Auguste Rodin, a portrait by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Among the great figures that Rodin had the honor of portraying, the writer Victor Hugo and the novelist Honoré de Balzac stand out. Monument to Victor Hugo was commissioned to the artist in 1889 and presented 2 years later to the National Society of Fine Arts, who rejected it. The words of Charles Yriarte, inspector general of the Ministry of Fine Arts, were:

The main figure, poorly assembled, does not relate to the imaginary figures of the waves. The back of the monument lacks interest and presents very little substance to the public who have to go around it to see all sides.

Rodin simultaneously worked on another version of the French writer, Victor Hugo seated, which was shown in 1897.

Monument to Honoré de Balzac, considered the first example of modern sculpture, was not recognized as such at the time. After seven years of work and several complaints from the committee because of the delay, in 1898 Rodin finished his work and exhibited it at the Salon de la Société des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Admired by some, the plaster was criticized by others until it was rejected by the Société des hommes de lettres. It was not until 1902 that the sculpture was rescued, when photographer Edward Steichen visited Rodin in his Meudon studio and together they began work on a pictorialist series. When Rodin saw Steichen's photographs, he exclaimed: "You will make the world understand my Balzac ".

His first solo exhibition took place in 1899; in the fall of that year, Bourdelle, Jules Desbois, and Rossi founded the Rodin Institute on the Boulevard de Montparnasse. Unfortunately, regardless of its success, the school closed in April 1900 to allow Rodin to prepare for the famous Exposition Universelle.

Auguste Rodin's The epilogue of his career (1900-1917)

On the occasion of the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1900, the artist decided to hold his first retrospective exhibition. For this purpose, he built the Pavillon de l'Alma in the Place de l'Alma, a temporary structure to house the works, about 150 of them, including sculptures, drawings and photographs. It was here that he presented The Gate of Hell for the first and only time in his life.

The plaster portal was surprisingly stripped of his most representative characters, such as The Thinker, Ugolino and his children, Paolo and Francesca and The Three Shadows. These empty places had reference numbers for the intended sculptures. The reason for their absence was never made known.

Among the different interpretations, it was thought that Rodin preferred greater abstraction. In line with impressionism, perhaps the sculptor chose to give light a leading role. The figures generated a play of shadows whose contrast prevented a full appreciation of the rest of the ensemble.

The structure of the Pavilion of the Soul was removed and reassembled in 1901 at the Villa des Brillants and became an exhibition space for those who visited the artist. Among the many people who visited his workshop were Edward VII of Great Britain and Eleanor Roosevelt, American diplomat and activist.

In the six years following the exhibition, there was an uninterrupted creation of figures and portraits. Notable among them were busts of Howard Walden, Berthelot, Gustave Geffroy, Madame Hunter and Bernard Shaw.

In 1902 he met the poet Rainer-Maria Rilke, who would remain with Rodin until 1906 and assist him with administrative tasks. It is attributed to a suggestion by Rilke that Baron Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza commissioned seven marble sculptures from Rodin; of these, four currently belong to Carmen Cervera and are on display in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.

In the last years of his life, Rodin reaped the fruits of his labor by receiving several awards. He was elected President of the International Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers in 1904.

The universities of Jena, Glasgow and Oxford honored him with honorary doctorates in 1905, 1906 and 1907 respectively. The municipality of Rome celebrated him at the Capitol and the Society of Young Czech Artists awarded him royal honors in Prague. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York inaugurated a room dedicated to the artist in 1912.

His popularity did not stop his production. He made new sculptures from earlier works and completed projects such as The Monument to Victor Hugo and the monumental version of The Thinker. His interest in dancers grew, whose spontaneous movements were captured in a series of late sculptures.

In 1909 the artist was already well known; with the donation of his work to the French State, the project for the creation of the Rodin Museum at the Hotel Brion began to be contemplated. He married Rose Beuret in January 1917; she was the companion of his life, who was by his side despite the extra-marital relations.

In that same year, a delegation of artists from Mexico visited him, among them Diego Rivera, Roberto Montenegro, Carlos Lozano and Francisco Orozco Muñoz. They presented him with a replica of a Mexica head, and Rodin returned the gesture by giving them The Call to Arms, a work preserved in the National Museum of San Carlos in Mexico City.

In the last year of his life, Rodin reduced his activity and limited himself to short walks near his home in Meudon. He contracted a severe flu at the end of 1917 and died on November 17 at his home.

His funeral was held the following week and was attended by friends and dignitaries; the body was exhibited until November 24 in the villa's atelier. The work The Thinker was placed on his tomb as arranged by the artist. No national tributes were held because of the war.

Judith Cladel described Rodin on his deathbed as an art monk:

In the white dress he wears, under the silver hair of life and beard, hands folded, is a vision of sublime beauty. He looks like a great monk - the monk of art he really was - drowsy in the peace of his conscience. He appeared as the very incarnation of sculpture.

Rodin's production

Rodin worked according to the traditional method, in fact his workshop was one of the last that could be considered as such. He used to make the pieces in plaster, wax or clay, once satisfied with the creation, his assistants were in charge of reproducing the work in plaster. From these molds it was possible to make marble works or commission bronze castings, all under the supervision of the master.

When Rodin reached his peak in 1885, he had to satisfy a great market demand as well as numerous public commissions. The great success of his work meant that the most emblematic sculptures were reproduced in various sizes and materials.

This is the case of The Thinker, whose original size in its conception was about 70 centimeters; in 1898 it was reduced to 38 and in 1904 it was enlarged to the monumental version of 2 meters high. To enlarge or reduce the size of a sculpture and maintain its proportions, a machine based on the pantograph was used, invented in 1836 by the French engineer Achille Collas.

By 1900, about 50 assistants worked in Rodin's studio. Being able to enter his studio was a source of prestige: artists such as Antoine Bourdelle and Camille Claudel were trained there.

The plasters

Plaster was Rodin's favorite material. Its malleability allowed the master to explore forms and continue to perfect his creations. The so-called "impossible positions" of his works were due to the fact that the artist used to take body parts from different works and assemble them into a new sculpture. When Rainer Maria Rilke visited Rodin's house in Meudon in 1902, he was amazed by the number of fragments in his studio:

There they are, just fragments, side by side the torso of one figure with the head of another, with the arm of a third.

The first thing Rodin looked for in a sculpture was its expressiveness, regardless of anatomical rules. It is for this reason that works with only one part of the body could also be considered finished; his numerous hands are an example.

Plaster represents the first stage of a work, before it is cast in bronze or carved in marble.

The bronzes

Bronze was one of the most appreciated materials for Rodin's sculptures. Several foundries collaborated with the artist. Among them, Griffoul, Thiébaut Frères, Susse, Barbedienne, Eugène, Georges and Alexis Rudier are the most important.

Bronze casting can be carried out by the lost wax casting or sand casting method. The result is the same although the procedure is different. The lost wax casting process has been used for over 5000 years. Although techniques and materials have changed, the predilection for this method is due to its extreme fidelity as well as its durability.

The process consists of applying a malleable material to the sculpture made by the artist. This creates a mold. Ductile and fire-resistant material is inserted into the mold, which allows a duplicate of the original model to be made, which can be called a "first cast". This will become the core of the final work.

The thickness of the first casting is slightly reduced and returned to the mold with metal nails that allow the core to remain in place. This creates a gap between the first casting and the mold itself that will be filled with wax. After closing the mold, hot wax is poured between the first casting and the mold.

The result is a piece with a core of refractory material covered with wax, which will be faithfully finished by hand and to which the signature of the artist, the serial number and the seal of the foundry will usually be incorporated.

Ducts are built around the piece to allow the wax and air to escape. In the same way, the molten metal - bronze - will be able to evenly take the place of the wax to recreate the sculpture. A mixture of finely granulated ceramic and plaster is applied to the surface of the piece and its ducts. A metal mesh with cement is also added to support the pressure of the metal during casting.

The result, which can be called a "investment mold," is dried and heated. This allows the wax to flow out through the ducts, leaving a space between the fire-resistant core and the mold. The molten bronze is poured into the investment mold where it will take the place of the wax. When everything cools down, the mold breaks and the metal appears.

A work exactly like the sculpture made by the artist. The remains of the ducts are removed so as not to leave any traces. This hand finishing is called chiseling. If there is any core residue in the bronze, it is also removed at this time. When the chiseling process is finished, a patina or thin layer of oxide is applied to the sculpture, which in addition to protecting it, gives color and shine to the piece.

The marbles

Marble is one of the materials that most emphasizes the work of the body in Rodin's sculptures. By observing pieces such as Eve, Fugitive Love, The Earth and the Moon or The Danaid one can appreciate how the master managed to animate the cold and hard rock.

Among his references, the Renaissance was an obligatory stage and during this period, marble was the material of choice also because of its reference to Antiquity.

Like many of his contemporaries, Rodin relied on the support of sculptors for the realization of his marble works. The fact that it was not the master who carved his pieces has been a source of criticism over time; many have questioned the originality of the work. However, it should be clarified that this practice was very common at the time and that the concept of creation was entirely attributed to Rodin.

Moreover, the master personally and constantly followed the entire process, as Paul Gselll stated: Rodin rarely intervened in his marbles, but because of his excessive control, he actually executed them himself. The difference between each work is due to the fact that Rodin, once the marble was completed, gave instructions to the sculptor on how to modify the work according to his aesthetic conception.

This is why, for example, in the various versions of Eve - first sculpted by the specialist Bozzoni - the rock always appears different. When the work needed modification, Rodin would point it out with a pen, sometimes taking the chisel himself for the finishing touches.

The first marble Rodin presented at the Salon was The Man with the Broken Nose in 1875. The sculptor was Léon Fourquet, one of his best carvers and a companion of his youth. Since then the artist produced about 400 marbles, although no catalog raisonné has yet been made.

In the aesthetics of his works, the use of the non finito or unfinished is outstanding. This term was introduced by Michelangelo in the 16th century and refers to leaving a sculpture unfinished and not defining its limits. Critics have seen in such an action a modern concept that leaves open the possibility for the viewer to interpret the work.

Rodin began to explore this style in the 1880s. His sculptures possess a particular transitory character, as if the sculptor had abandoned the work in progress, giving the impression that the figure emerges little by little from a block.

The drawings

Parallel to his activity as a sculptor, Rodin drew live models as a common element of his graphic production at all periods of his life, and from 1890 onwards, female models became omnipresent.

The great success of Rodin's sculptures partly overshadowed his creations on paper, of which there are about ten thousand drawings, most of them, more than seven thousand, preserved in the Musée Rodin's collection.

The artist began his training in drawing at the age of 14 at the Petite École, the Imperial Special School of Drawing and Mathematics. While most of his drawings were sketches for sculptures, there are also series that became works in their own right, as in the case of the designs that the artist produced from 1880 onwards for the project of The Gate of Hell.

The latter cannot be considered preparatory studies because there is no sculpture that was subsequently inspired by them. Considered for a time of minor importance with respect to the sculptures, they became known on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of 1900.

Of great importance is also the series of erotic drawings that Rodin made towards the end of his life. They reveal his great passion for women. Voluptuous and sensual forms were drawn with a delicate but decisive stroke.

Rodin Museum

The Rodin Museum in Paris opened its doors in 1919 and houses the largest collection of Auguste Rodin in the world. It has two sites: the Hôtel Brion in the center of Paris and the Villa de Brillantes, the house where the artist died, in Meudon.

The creation of the museum respected the will of Rodin, who donated his work to the French State in exchange for the institution of a museum in his name.

I donate to the State all my work in plaster, marble, bronze, stone and my drawings, as well as the collection of Antiquity that I am pleased to have assembled for the learning and education of artists and workers alike. And I request the State to keep the hôtel Biron which will be the Rodin museum with all these collections, reserving to me the right to reside there for the rest of my life.
-Auguste Rodin

As a state museum, the Rodin Museum is dedicated to the conservation, research, publication and exhibition of the sculptor's work. It is notorious that one of the artist's wishes was the dissemination of his work;

because of this, when he donated his collection to the French State, he also ceded to it the intellectual property rights to allow it to produce and sell bronze sculptures that are made from the genuine molds and castings that the sculptor himself donated. Established by French law, the editions are produced in series limited to 12 pieces.

This explains how the same sculpture -for example The Three Shadows- can be appreciated in several latitudes: both in the Rodin Museum in Paris and in the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City. All are considered multiple originals and the most recent ones bear the serial number and copyright stamp of the Rodin Museum.

The Palacete Biron, Paris

In 1908 Rodin settled in the Biron Palace, later the Musée Rodin. The building is a jewel of the French Rococo and was built between 1728 and 1730 by the architect Jean Aubert on behalf of the hairdresser Abrahm Peyrenc de Moras. It was a lavish palace that was not enjoyed by those who ordered it since he died two years after its inauguration.

Shortly after, the building passed into the hands of Marshal Biron, after whom it was named. In 1829 it belonged to the Ladies of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who established an educational center. This society removed all the original decoration from the building, considering it superfluous.

By 1905, the mansion was occupied by artists such as the writer Jean Cocteau, the painter Henri Matisse, the dancer Isadora Duncan and the wife of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, thanks to whom Rodin discovered the property where he moved from 1908 onwards.

There the artist accumulated his work, covered the walls with his drawings and sketches, and placed part of his antique collections; he was also in charge of decorating the place with classical marbles and some of his works. Friends of the artist, such as Rilke and the dancer Isadora Duncan, visited this place.46

Rilke would tell Rilke of his liking for the place:

Its three large windows open prodigiously on an abandoned garden where one can perceive, from time to time, innocent rabbits jumping between its bars.
-Auguste Rodin

In 1911 the land was sold to the State, since it had undertaken the previous year to acquire the Hôtel Biron in order to install there the Civil Buildings Service of the Ministry of Public Instruction, and all the occupants left the site except Rodin, who refused. Rodin's wish at the time was to cede his work to the French State on condition that part of the Biron mansion be used to create a museum.

In 1916, a law was voted in the National Assembly, which accepted the three donations of the sculptor and confirmed that the Hôtel Biron and its garden would be used for the exhibition of the works donated by Rodin to the French State.

Léonce Bénédite took charge of the conservation of the artist's artistic heritage and the organization of the future museum. The donation of his work was formally made to France on February 24, 1916, the date on which the act was published in a state gazette.

In 1914 Rodin published the book Cathedrals of France, in which he included his notes on Gothic cathedrals. In the same year he traveled to London with Rose and Judith Cladel because of the outbreak of World War I. In early 1917 he contracted a new contract with the French government. At the beginning of 1917 he married Rose Beuret at the Villa des Brillants.

In that year, a delegation of Mexican artists visited him, among them Diego Rivera, Roberto Montenegro, Carlos Lozano and Francisco Orozco Muñoz. They presented him with The Replica of a Mexica Head, and Rodin returned the gesture by giving them The Call to Arms Today, a work preserved in the Museo Nacional de San Carlos in Mexico City.

The Villa des Brillants, Meudon

The Villa des Brillants is a Louis XIII style house located in Meudon, on the outskirts of Paris. Rodin acquired the property through an auction in December 1895. There, the artist was able to find the environment that favored his artistic inspiration: abstracted from the chaotic city and in contact with nature.

Although the sculptor continued to work in his Parisian cellars, in Meudon he set up a workshop with the support of fifty assistants, including sculptors, workers and molders.

When it was decided to withdraw the Pavilion of the Soul at the Universal Exposition of 1900, it was in Meudon that Rodin decided to rebuild the space as it was. In 1905, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke moved there as his personal secretary and described it in a letter to his wife:

It gives an extremely strong and singular impression this wide, clear hall where all these white, dazzling sculptures seem to look at us, behind the high glass doors, like the fauna of an aquarium. A great, an immense impression one feels that they are hundreds of lives, not just one.

In 1930, to replace the Alma pavilion, the space was converted into a museum that houses most of the artist's plaster casts, including La puerta del Infierno (The Gates of Hell). The villa was renovated in 1997 from photographs of the period to offer an accurate version of the spaces in which Rodin lived and worked.

Auguste Rodin's Legacy

Rodin was an artist who knew how to critically confront his environment and thus managed to revolutionize the concept of sculpture. The fact that he did not attend the School of Fine Arts and that he was mainly self-taught, perhaps contributed to the development of a vision outside the canons of the Academy.

Like the French sculptor, there were several artists who at the end of the 19th century questioned tradition and gave life to a new genre of art: Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas and Claude Monet are some examples. Unlike these, Rodin was one of the first to experience international fame before his death. His work is considered crucial to the beginning of modern art.

On a conceptual level, Rodin criticized the idealization of the academy that changed reality to make it more pleasing. For him it was important to see nature as such. This supposed improvement for Rodin was a counterfeit; the Academy in its eagerness to produce perfect forms was moving away from reality.

The French sculptor turned his attention to the real and in this he emphasized beauty. At first it was not easy for the critics to accept him; a clear example of this was The Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose.

The face of an old man, full of wrinkles with a broken nose at first was not considered worthy of competing with the perfection of the neoclassical style busts. Successive currents such as hyperrealism will not fear reality by representing it with a photographic veracity.

Another innovation that can be attributed to Rodin was his consideration of the spectator. Starting from Michelangelo's non finito, he consciously left some of his figures unfinished so that the public could give them their interpretation. This aspect is a constant in contemporary art that leaves the viewer a fundamental role.

Rodin also modernized the way of conceiving public monuments. He was one of the first artists to dare to change the way heroes were usually represented. Instead of sculpting courage and bearing, Rodin gave space to the fears and frustrations of his characters.

The work The Burghers of Calais is a clear example. In The Gateway to Hell, which was initially intended to serve as a gateway to the future Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, he did not shy away from depicting both erotic and desperate forms. For Rodin, humanizing was synonymous with modernizing, a talent inherited by artists such as Constantin Brancusi and Jacques Lipchitz.

Rodin also contributed a revolution in the way of modeling the surface. At the Academy, students were taught that surfaces had to be independent of the effects of light. Rodin questioned this criterion and made light the protagonist, just as his contemporaries, the Impressionists, did in painting. He believed that the volume determined the emotional content of the work and could thus impact the viewer.

Rodin rescued sculpture at a time when it was marginalized to a mere decorative role in the living rooms of homes. Charles Baudelaire in his Salon of 1846 devoted an entire chapter to why sculpture is boring. The caricaturist Honoré Daumier in the Salon of 1857 depicted a sculpture complaining that viewers were not paying attention to it.

Rodin was "the artist who renewed Western sculpture, anticipating, in the nineteenth century, the aesthetic criteria that would mark the course of the arts in the twentieth." 

Outstanding works of Auguste Rodin


The artist's most famous works are related to the Hell's Gate project. Many of the sculptures present here were developed individually and became independent pieces. Emblematic cases are The Thinker, The Three Shadows or The Kiss. Also noteworthy are the public commissions that the French state commissioned from him.

  • The Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose: one of his first works, the man portrayed is Bibi, a non-professional model who lived in the Saint-Marcel neighborhood. Because of the cold, the plaster bust lost its back and Rodin decided to present it as a mask to the 1865 Salon. The work was rejected because it was considered unfinished, and it was not until 1875 that the piece was accepted. With its pronounced wrinkles and the nose, the work represents a great example of how Rodin considered that what was represented should not be beautiful but true.
  • The Gate of Hell: is a monumental sculptural group measuring approximately six meters high, four meters wide and one meter deep. In its totality it contains some 300 figures whose dimensions vary from fifteen centimeters to more than one meter. In 1880 the French government commissioned Rodin to design a door for the entrance to the future Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Although the project was cancelled, Rodin worked on the doorway until the end of his life. From The Door in Plaster, now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, eight casts of this work have been made, one of which is currently in the Musée Rodin in the French capital. The Gates of Hell is, in short, a reflection on the human condition, with its lights and shadows. There are touches of romanticism and symbolism in the theme of the work, as well as the undeniable inspiration of the cursed poet Charles Baudelaire and one of the fathers of the Italian language, Dante Alighieri. Some of the numerous figures were later reproduced by Rodin independently, as is the case of The Thinker (located on the lintel of the door), as well as The Three Shadows (which appear at the top), Fugitive Love and Ugolino and his children, among others.
  • The Thinker: represented one of his most famous works, it brings together all the characteristics of the author. The work was modeled by Rodin around 1881 and was exhibited to the public until 1888 in Copenhagen. The original version, measuring approximately 70 cm, was enlarged after 1902 and became a universal icon. The sculpture went beyond its literary sense (since it is originally the portrait of Dante who is affected by everything he is seeing -in The Door-). It is of a seated man, reclining, with his head tilted downward, in a posture of thought, passivity, solitude and concern. For this, Rodin was inspired by existing works (such as the Moses or the Tomb of Lorenzo de Medici by Michelangelo) from the classical Renaissance period. Rodin made an idealized representation of a person to convey his feelings, something more universal and profound (loneliness, man's concern for the future of the human being) with an important psychological charge. The sculpture of The Thinker was installed in 1906 in front of the Parisian Pantheon, in Montparnasse, where it remained until 1922, when it was removed to be placed in the Rodin Museum.
  • The Three Shadows: the work was conceived for the upper part of The Gate of Hell. It consists of three figures repeated and placed at different angles around a specific point. In the contortion of the neck as well as in the work of the anatomy, the influence of the Renaissance master Michelangelo stands out. The first time the artist presented this work was in 1889 on the occasion of an exhibition with the Impressionist painter Claude Monet.
  • The Kiss: this work was originally conceived for The Gate of Hell. Its silhouette appears in the third model of The Door. It was cast around 1881 and refers to one of the most important stories of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. The two protagonists are Paolo and Francesca, condemned to suffer the penalties of the circle of the lustful in Dante's Inferno because of their adulterous love. The work was exhibited for the first time in 1887 in Paris. Its great success led the French State to commission an enlarged version (circa 180 cm) in marble in 1888. Among the most reproduced works of the French sculptor, it has four different sizes whose rights were acquired by the Barbedienne foundry.
  • Bust of Victor Hugo: also known as Bust of the Illustrious Master, the work was made between February and April 1883. Rodin had the opportunity to meet Victor Hugo thanks to the journalist Edmond Bazire. "The first time I saw Victor Hugo, I was deeply impressed: his eyes were magnificent.... I thought I had seen a French Jupiter."
  • Jules Dalou: Rodin defined him as his first friend. The two met when they were young and working for an ornamentalist. Two years before Rodin, Dalou frequented the Petite École. The bust was executed in plaster in 1883. This work belongs to a series of portraits that Rodin made in the early 1880s. Most of the sitters were close friends of the sculptor.
  • The Martyr: the individual work was conceived in 1885 and was probably first exhibited in 1889. Looking at its position, the head, clavicle and hip appear to be fractured, which has led some studies to think that the master worked in the morgue. In La puerta del Infierno his silhouette appears several times in different positions.
  • La eterna primavera (also known as Cierto y la tira or Juventud o Ideal): painted from 1884, the work refers to the eternal and continuous birth of life. The couple represented could allude to the Dantesque characters Paolo and Francesca. To realize the torso of the woman, Rodin used as a model Adele, one of the Abruzzesi sisters, who was among his favorites.
  • The Burghers of Calais: the work was commissioned to Rodin in 1884. It was one of the many public monuments to support the patriotic wave of the period following the Franco-Prussian War. The purpose of the sculptural ensemble was to pay tribute to the six bourgeois of Calais, who had offered their lives to liberate the French city from the English siege. The work received several criticisms due to the way Rodin represented the characters. Far from the academic canons where the heroes had brave poses, the sculpture represents feelings of anguish, despair and pain.
  • The Old Tree: dating from 1885, it represents an example of how Rodin could be defined as a polysemic being. According to the specialist Georges Grappe Rodin "sees human nature as a source of inspiration". The work shows a nude woman clinging to the neck of a man - tree.
  • Mercury standing: created in 1888, the sculpture alludes to Mercury son of Jupiter. He is considered the messenger of the gods and is also linked to death for guiding the souls to the underworld.
  • Ovid's Metamorphoses: the figures of this piece appear at the top of The Gate of Hell, which was conceived in 1880. The individual version was made between 1886 and 1889. The work represents the transformation and lapses of the human being.
  • Venus: the work was created in 1889, and is inspired by both the currents of Greco-Latin mythology and dance movements. The title evokes the most beautiful goddess of Olympus, and generates a sense of love and fertility.
  • Monument to Balzac: The work was commissioned by the Society of People of Letters to Rodin in 1891. Paying homage to one of the greatest French novelists represented a great challenge for Rodin. He used to model from a model and in this case he had to be inspired by the portraits of Balzac that were previously made. The master carried out several studies before finishing his work. When it was presented in 1898 at the Salon de la Société des Beaux-Arts it was rejected; today it is considered the first modern work.
  • Study for Iris, messenger of the gods: Created in 1895, the work shows a woman with her legs open without head or right arm. With a strong erotic charge, according to researcher Antoinette Gabrielle de Fauquembergues, Aurel is the work that gave back to women the freedom to be themselves: in front of Rodin, women dare to be free and leave inhibitions aside. They reveal their greatness and independence.
  • The Walking Man: the conception of this work dates back to around 1899 although there are earlier studies of the torso. The sculpture was first exhibited in 1900 on the occasion of the Universal Exposition and was presented as a study for St. John the Baptist. The artist himself considered it one of his best works.
  • The Cathedral: the work brings together two right hands belonging to two different people. The title of the work evokes the 1914 publication Cathedrals of France. The piece belongs to a series that the artist made from 1900 onwards and which adopts hands as its main theme.


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