Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Auguste Rodin - 173rd Birthday!

Rodin's The Kiss detail

I was first introduced to the work of famed sculptor Auguste Rodin while I was in high school. A short time later I was able to see an exhibit of his work at a local university, and then, years later, I was able to travel to the Rodin museum in Paris. Auguste Rodin was born in France on November 12, 1840. He became known for injecting a realism in his work that moved away from the accepted conventions of the time. Rodin himself respected the work of Michelangelo.  

The Man with the Broken Nose

One of Rodin's early works, The Man with the Broken Nose, was submitted to the Salon for exhibition in 1864, but it was rejected. A few years later, though, he received a commission to produce a decorative gate representative of Dante's Divine Comedy. Rodin began the massive project by reading Dante's work again and again. He created many figures writhing and struggling against their fate at the gates of hell. Rodin was able to create a sense of tension and motion in his figures which greatly adds to their appeal.

Tourists view The Gates of Hell at the Rodin Museum in Paris

Detail from The Gates of Hell

From this work (which would consume the bulk of Rodin's life), comes one of Rodin's well-known images, The Thinker. Rodin conceived The Thinker as a representation of Dante contemplating his creation of the Divine Comedy. However, Rodin was intrigued by the image, and made a stand-alone version. The Thinker symbolizes to some the effort of creativity. It is, perhaps, the most famous image of sculpture in the world.

Rodin's The Thinker

Rodin also created many sculptures of hands. I loved seeing his work in Paris, and particularly enjoyed his creations of hands.

The Cathedral

"I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don't need," said Rodin. It seems a bit of an oversimplification, but it also gives you an appreciation for his ability to determine what he did and didn't need in each work of art.

The Hand of God

Another view of The Hand of God - also known as Creation

In The Hand of God, God's creations emerge from his massive hand as if from a womb. Rodin left some of the block rough cut. I think the rough block contrasting with the smooth perfection of the hand adds to the impact of the work.

Rodin often repeated images. He took images of Adam and combined them to form The Three Shades.

The Three Shades - Rodin Museum in Paris

The Burghers of Calais is another famous work.  It took Rodin 10 years to complete this sculpture, and then it was attacked for its appearance. The story goes that the English king, Edward III, agreed to spare the population of Calais if the six most notable burghers (town leaders) came to him bareheaded, barefoot, with a rope around their necks (August Rodin: Sculptures and Drawings by Gilles Neret, Barnes & Noble Books, NY, 1995,  pg. 50). Rodin's vision of these men and their willingness to be humbled in order to save their people was considered to be lacking in grandeur. However, over time, his vision of the work won out, and his insistence that the work not be elevated on a plinth adds to its emotion. 

The Burghers of Calais

Rodin is quoted as saying "Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely."  Good advice from a talented artist. Rodin died in 1917.  Happy Birthday, Auguste Rodin! Thanks for your amazing contributions to the art world.

Rodin in his studio.

 For more information: The Rodin Museum in Paris 


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  2. I've never seen one in person but have viewed some remarkable photos where the lighting has been just so, showing off the form and mass of his remarkable work. Sometimes it's beyond me to understand how a mere mortal could achieve such profound beauty. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Always one of my favorite sculptors. Ok, maybe my very favorite one. He was capable of injecting so much emotion and humanity into his work. Breathtaking stuff.