Auguste Rodin

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Auguste Rodin : biography

12 November 1840 – 1 November 1917

He described the evolution of his bust over a month, passing through "all the stages of art’s evolution": first, a "Byzantine masterpiece", then "Bernini intermingled", then an elegant Houdon. "The hand of Rodin worked not as the hand of a sculptor works, but as the work of Elan Vital. The Hand of God is his own hand."

After he completed his work in clay, he employed highly-skilled assistants to re-sculpt his compositions at larger sizes (including any of his large-scale monuments such as The Thinker), to cast the clay compositions into plaster or bronze, and to carve his marbles. Rodin’s major innovation was to capitalize on such multi-staged processes of 19th century sculpture and their reliance on plaster casting.

Since clay deteriorates rapidly if not kept wet or fired into a terra-cotta, sculptors used plaster casts as a means of securing the composition they would make out of the fugitive material that is clay. This was common practice amongst Rodin’s contemporaries, and sculptors would exhibit plaster casts with the hopes that they would be commissioned to have the works made in a more permanent material. Rodin, however, would have multiple plasters made and treat them as the raw material of sculpture, recombining their parts and figures into new compositions, and new names.

As Rodin’s practice developed into the 1890s, he became more and more radical in his pursuit of fragmentation, the combination of figures at different scales, and the making of new compositions from his earlier work. A prime example of this is the bold The Walking Man (1899–1900), which was exhibited as his major one-person show in 1900. This is composed of two sculptures from the 1870s that Rodin found in his studio – a broken and damaged torso that had fallen into neglect and the lower extremities of a statuette version of his 1878 St. John the Baptist Preaching he was having re-sculpted at a reduced scale.

Without finessing the join between upper and lower, between torso and legs, Rodin created a work that many sculptors at the time and subsequently have seen as one of his strongest and most singular works. This is despite the fact that the object conveys two different styles, exhibits two different attitudes toward finish, and lacks any attempt to hide the arbitrary fusion of these two components. It was the freedom and creativity with which Rodin used these practices – along with his activation surfaces of sculptures through traces of his own touch and with his more open attitude toward bodily pose, sensual subject matter, and non-realistic surface – that marked Rodin’s re-making of traditional 19th century sculptural techniques into the prototype for modern sculpture.

Later years (1900-1917)

By 1900, Rodin’s artistic reputation was entrenched. Gaining exposure from a pavilion of his artwork set up near the 1900 World’s Fair (Exposition Universelle) in Paris, he received requests to make busts of prominent people internationally, while his assistants at the atelier produced duplicates of his works. His income from portrait commissions alone totalled probably 200,000 francs a year.Hale, 147. As Rodin’s fame grew, he attracted many followers, including the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and authors Octave Mirbeau, Joris-Karl Huysmans, and Oscar Wilde.

Rilke stayed with Rodin in 1905 and 1906, and did administrative work for him; he would later write a laudatory monograph on the sculptor. Rodin and Beuret’s modest country estate in Meudon, purchased in 1897, was a host to such visitors as King Edward, dancer Isadora Duncan, and harpsichordist Wanda Landowska. Rodin moved to the city in 1908, renting the main floor of the Hôtel Biron, an 18th-century townhouse. He left Beuret in Meudon, and began an affair with the American-born Duchesse de Choiseul.

America

While Rodin was beginning to be accepted in France by the time of The Burghers of Calais, he had not yet conquered the American market and because of his technique and the frankness of some of his work, he did not have an easy time selling his work to American industrialists. Fortunately, he came to know Sarah Tyson Hallowell (1846–1924), a curator from Chicago who visited Paris to arrange exhibitions at the large Interstate Expositions of the 1870s and 1880s. Hallowell was not only a curator but an adviser and a facilitator who was trusted by a number of prominent American collectors to suggest works for their collections, the most prominent of these being the Chicago hotelier Potter Palmer and his wife, Bertha Palmer (1849–1918).