August Rodin is considered to be one of the greatest and most prolific sculptors of the 19th and 20th centuries. His artworks were so innovative and non-conventional that Parisian art critics had initially denounced them. Despite these rejections, Rodin’s works were well received outside of France and eventually won the recognition of his countrymen.
Born in Paris on November 12, 1840, Rodin expressed interests in art at an early age. When he was 14, he attended “la Petite Ecole”, a school for drawing and mathematics. However, devastated by the death of his beloved sister, Rodin turned towards religion and joined the Order of the Holy Sacrament in 1862. It was during this time that Rodin sculpted the bust of Father Piere-Julien Eynard. Realizing that religion was not his calling, he returned to Paris in 1963.
After a brief employment as a corporal in the French National Guard, Rodin traveled to Belgium and Italy, where he studied Michelangelo’s works. Rodin was greatly impressed and influenced by the Italian sculptor’s portrayal of muscles and human body. Contrary to artistic tradition of his time, Rodin believed that sculptures should reflect the subjects as they truly are, and not as the ideal that they should be.
In 1877, Rodin exhibited his nude masterpiece L’Age d’Airin (The Age of Bronze) in Brussels and Paris. Unfortunately, this realistic work of art was not well received. Critics accused Rodin of casting the statue directly from living models, instead of sculpting it. In time, Rodin’s true genius was recognized and the French government purchased The Age of Bronze as the first of many state acquisitions of his artworks.
The French government commissioned Rodin in 1880 to sculpt the entrance of the planned Museum of Decorative Arts. This project, called La Porte de l’Enfer (The Gates of Hell), was inspired by The Inferno, the first chapter of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The museum site was later moved from the bank of Seine to Louvre, and Rodin’s commission was then canceled. Despite the setback, Rodin continued to work on this project and created one hundred and eighty-six figures. These statues represented mainly scenes and characters from the famous poem. Some of them, such as The Thinker (a portrayal of Dante himself), Adam and Eve, are among Rodin’s most famous artworks. The Kiss was originally part of The Gates of Hell until Rodin realized that the sculpture’s joyful nature conflicted with the theme of The Gates of Hell. Unfortunately, Rodin never finished the project and the statues were cast in bronze only after his death.
Rodin’s most controversial artwork, The Nude Balzac, was created under commission in 1891. This sculpture of the famous French writer drew criticisms and hateful comments from French papers for the next 10 years. Eventually, the commission was given to another sculptor and the resulting statue was installed at the Avenue Friedland in 1902. Rodin refused to sell his Nude Balzac despite numerous offers. It was not until years after his death that the sculpture was placed at the intersection of Boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse and viewed as the masterpiece that it truly is.
By early 20th century, Rodin had become so well know that the Paris World Exposition gave him his own pavilion. Rodin displayed 170 sculptures at the 1900 Exposition. Major museums and collectors from around the world sought after his artworks and brought him both fame and fortune.
In 1908 Rodin moved his studio to the ground floor of the Biron Hotel, which was established as the official Rodin Museum in 1919. Rodin died in the Hotel on November 17, 1917 at the age of 77.