Auguste Rodin

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Auguste Rodin : biography

12 November 1840 – 1 November 1917

A cast of The Thinker was placed next to his tomb in Meudon; it was Rodin’s wish that the figure serve as his headstone and epitaph.Elsen, 52. In 1923, Marcell Tirel, Rodin’s secretary, published a book alleging that Rodin’s death was largely due to cold, and the fact that he had no heat at Meudon. Rodin requested permission to stay in the Hotel Biron, a museum of his works, but the director of the museum refused to let him stay there.

Works

In 1864, Rodin submitted his first sculpture for exhibition, The Man with the Broken Nose, to the Paris Salon. The subject was an elderly neighbourhood street porter. The unconventional bronze piece was not a traditional bust, but instead the head was "broken off" at the neck, the nose was flattened and crooked, and the back of the head was absent, having fallen off the clay model in an accident. The work emphasized texture and the emotional state of the subject; it illustrated the "unfinishedness" that would characterize many of Rodin’s later sculptures.Janson, 637. The Salon rejected the piece.

Early figures: the inspiration of Italy

In Brussels, Rodin created his first full-scale work, The Age of Bronze, having returned from Italy. Modelled by a Belgian soldier, the figure drew inspiration from Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, which Rodin had observed at the Louvre. Attempting to combine Michelangelo’s mastery of the human form with his own sense of human nature, Rodin studied his model from all angles, at rest and in motion; he mounted a ladder for additional perspective, and made clay models, which he studied by candlelight. The result was a life-size, well-proportioned nude figure, posed unconventionally with his right hand atop his head, and his left arm held out at his side, forearm parallel to the body.

In 1877, the work debuted in Brussels and then was shown at the Paris Salon. The statue’s apparent lack of a theme was troubling to critics – commemorating neither mythology nor a noble historical event – and it is not clear whether Rodin intended a theme.Hale, 50. He first titled the work The Vanquished, in which form the left hand held a spear, but he removed the spear because it obstructed the torso from certain angles. After two more intermediary titles, Rodin settled on The Age of Bronze, suggesting the Bronze Age, and in Rodin’s words, "man arising from nature".Hale, 51. Later, however, Rodin said that he had had in mind "just a simple piece of sculpture without reference to subject".

Its mastery of form, light, and shadow made the work look so realistic that Rodin was accused of surmoulage – having taken a cast from a living model. Rodin vigorously denied the charges, writing to newspapers and having photographs taken of the model to prove how the sculpture differed. He demanded an inquiry and was eventually exonerated by a committee of sculptors. Leaving aside the false charges, the piece polarized critics. It had barely won acceptance for display at the Paris Salon, and criticism likened it to "a statue of a sleepwalker" and called it "an astonishingly accurate copy of a low type". Others rallied to defend the piece and Rodin’s integrity. The government minister Turquet admired the piece, and The Age of Bronze was purchased by the state for 2,200 francs – what it had cost Rodin to have it cast in bronze.

A second male nude, St. John the Baptist Preaching, was completed in 1878. Rodin sought to avoid another charge of surmoulage by making the statue larger than life: St. John stands almost 6′ 7" (2 m). While The Age of Bronze is statically posed, St. John gestures and seems to move toward the viewer. The effect of walking is achieved despite the figure having both feet firmly on the ground – a physical impossibility, and a technical achievement that was lost on most contemporary critics.Hale, 80. Rodin chose this contradictory position to, in his words, "display simultaneously…views of an object which in fact can be seen only successively".Hale, 68.