Auguste Rodin - Encyclopedia

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AUGUSTE RODIN (1840-), French sculptor, was born in 1840, in Paris, and at an early age displayed a taste for his art. He began by attending Barye's classes, but did not yield too completely to his influence. From 1864 to 1870, under pressure of necessity, he was employed in the studio of CarrierBelleuse, where he learnt to deal with the mechanical difficulties of a sculptor. Even so early as 1864 his individuality was manifested in his "Man with a Broken Nose." After the war, finding nothing to do in Paris, Rodin went to Brussels, where from 1871 to 1877 he worked, as the colleague of the Belgian artist Van Rasbourg, on the sculpture for the outside and the caryatides for the interior of the Bourse, besides exhibiting in 1875 a "Portrait of Garnier." In 1877 he contributed to the Salon "The Bronze Age," which was seen again, cast in bronze, at the Salon of 1880, when it took a third-class medal, was purchased by the State, and is now in the museum of the Luxembourg. Between 1882 and 1885 he sent to the Salons busts of "Jean-Paul Laurens" and "Carrier-Belleuse" (1882), "Victor Hugo" and "Dalou" (1884), and "Antonin Proust" (1885). From about this time he chiefly devoted himself to a great decorative composition six metres high, which was not finished for twenty years. This is the "Portal of Hell," the most elaborate perhaps of all Rodin's works, executed to order for the Musee des arts decoratifs. It is inspired mainly by Dante's Inferno, the poet himself being seated at the top, while at his feet, in under-cut relief, we see the writhing crowd of the damned, torn by the frenzy of passion and the anguish of despair. The lower part consists of two bas-reliefs, in their midst two masks of tormented faces. Round these run figures of women and centaurs. Above the door three men cling to each other in an attitude of despair. After beginning this titanic undertaking, and while continuing to work on it, Rodin executed for the town of Damvillers a statue of "BastienLepage"; for Nancy a "Monument to Claude le Lorrain," representing the Chariot of the Sun drawn by horses; and for Calais "The Burgesses of Calais" surrendering the keys of the town and imploring mercy. In this, Rodin, throwing over all school tradition, represents the citizens not as grouped on a square or circular plinth, but walking in file. This work was exhibited at the Petit Gallery in 188 9. At the time of the secession of the National Society of Fine Arts, or New Salon, in 1890, Rodin withdrew from the old Society of French Artists, and exhibited in the New Salon the bust of his friend "Puvis de Chavannes" (1892), "Contemplation" and a "Caryatid," both in marble, and the "Monument to Victor Hugo" (1897), intended for the gardens of the Luxembourg. In this the poet is represented nude, as a powerful old man extending his right arm with a sovereign gesture, the Muses standing behind him. In 1898 Rodin exhibited two very dissimilar works,. "The Kiss," exhibited again in 1 9 00, a marble group representing Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini, and the sketch in plaster for a "Statue of Balzac." This statue, a commission from the Society of Men of Letters, had long been expected, and was received with vehement dissensions. Some critics regarded this work, in which Balzac was represented in his voluminous dressing-gown, as the first-fruits of a new phase of sculpture; others, on the contrary, declared that it was incomprehensible, if not ridiculous. This was the view taken by the society who had ordered it, and who "refused to recognize Rodin's rough sketch as a statue of Balzac," and withdrew the commission, giving it to the sculptor Falguiere. Falguiere exhibited his model in 18 99. In the same Salon, Rodin, to prove that the conduct of the society had made no change in his friendship with Falguiere, exhibited a bust in bronze of his rival, as well as one of "Henri Rochefort." In 1 9 00, the city of Paris, to do honour to Rodin, erected at its own expense a building close to one of the entrances to the Great Exhibition, in which almost all of the works of the artist were to be seen, more especially the great "Portal of Hell," still quite incomplete, the "Balzac," and a host of other works, many of them unfinished or mere rough sketches. Here, too, were to be seen some of Rodin's designs, studies and water-colour drawings. He has also executed a great many etchings and sgraffiti on porcelain for the manufactory at Sevres. His best-known etching is the portrait of Victor Hugo. Many of Rodin's works are in private collections, and at the Luxembourg he is represented by a "Donald" (in marble), a "Saint John" (in bronze, 1880), "She who made the Helmet" (bronze statuette), the busts of "J. P. Laurens" and of "A Lady" and other works. In the Musee Galliera is a very fine bust of Victor Hugo. Rodin's "Hand of God" was exhibited in the New Gallery, London, in 1905. In 1 9 04 Mr Ernest Beckett (Lord Grimthorpe) presented the British nation with the sculptor's "Le Penseur." In the same year Rodin became president of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Engravers, in succession to James McNeill Whistler.

See Sculpture (Modern French); also Geffroy, La Vie artistique (Paris, 1892, 1893, 1899, 1900); L. Maillard, Rodin (Paris, 1899); La Plume, Rodin et son oeuvre (Paris, 1900); Alexandre, Le Balzac de Rodin (Paris, 1898); H. Boutet, Dix dessins choisis de Auguste Rodin (1904); R. Dircks, Auguste Rodin (1904); H. Duhem, Auguste Rodin (1903); C. Black, Auguste Rodin: the Man, his Ideas and his Works (1905).

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