SHRAY BRONZE SCULPTURE
THE ARTIST

Auguste Rodin

“Rodin has a modest attitude toward his art. When he finished his Balzac, which remains the incontestable point of departure for modern sculpture, he declared, "It is now that I would like to begin work.” — Constantin Brancusi, quoted in Twentieth-Century Artists

 

SHRAY BRONZEAUGUSTE RODIN In the last years of his life, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was hailed as a magician and miracle worker, poet and philosopher, sublime genius, and master sculptor. By 1900, Rodin was already considered to be France's greatest living artist. No other modern artist has been so controversial, yet had such extravagant epithets and honors, nor (with the exception of Picasso) has had such international impact. In giving form to the suffering, malaise, and ennui of the late 19th century, as well as celebrating the human form, Rodin effectively liberated sculpture from the didactic, moralizing monuments of the past.

To understand Rodin's accomplishments, it is necessary to place his career into the context of the Paris Sculpture Salon and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, whose high-minded academic standards had dominated French art and patronage since the 17th century. With the hierarchy of artistic authority stemming from these government institutions, breaking from tradition was both daring and extremely risky for artists hoping to succeed in France. Rodin challenged the established styles and, in so doing, revolutionized sculpture.

Born in Paris in 1840, Rodin was 14 years old when he enrolled in the government Ecole Spéciale de Dessin et de Mathématiques, a school for the industrial workers of France. This was known as the "Petit Ecole" to distinguish the school from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (the "Grand Ecole") where, despite three attempts, Rodin failed to gain admission.

After graduating in 1857, Rodin began working as a decorative sculptor. Throughout much of the 1860s and 1870s, he assisted in the workshop of France's premier decorative sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887). Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Rodin moved to Brussels, where he worked continuously for more than five years. In 1875 Rodin went to Italy to study the sculpture of Michelangelo. The trip provided the encouragement that Rodin needed to reject the prevailing dogma of academic sculpture, and propelled him into the next phase of his career. Two years later, Rodin returned to Paris, where he made his debut at the Salon with Age of Bronze (1875-76). The work immediately thrust Rodin into the center of major controversy, whereby he was falsely accused of casting his figure from the living model. Critics attacked Rodin, while others, excited by Rodin's introduction of realism to figure sculpture, championed the young artist.

In 1880, Rodin secured his first major commission for The Gates of Hell, a set of bronze doors for the as yet unbuilt Museum of Decorative Arts. The Gates of Hell dominated Rodin's thoughts for the next two decades. though ultimately neither the museum nor the doors would ever be completed. Rodin's work on the doors led to some of his best-known independent work, such as The Thinker and She Who Once Was the Helmet-Maker's Beautiful Wife. In 1885, the city of Calais selected Rodin to create a monument to its heroic forefathers, The Burghers of Calais, and during the 1880s and 1890s, Rodin also worked on monuments to the painter Claude Lorrain, to Victor Hugo, and to Honoré de Balzac.

Public awareness and appreciation for Rodin's work rose dramatically during the 1890s. With the demand for his sculpture increasing, Rodin began exhibiting on a world-wide basis. He held a major retrospective of his work at a temporary museum he erected at the Universal Exposition held in Paris in 1900. In 1916 Rodin donated his entire estate to the French government stipulating that they establish a permanent museum dedicated to his work. The Musée Rodin would be located in the residence Rodin had maintained in Paris since 1906. He married Rose Beuret, his longtime companion, in 1917, three weeks before her death. Rodin died ten months later.

          — KNPB Channel 5 Public Broadcasting Web Site

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