Auguste Rodin

149. augusterodin

Biography

Auguste Rodin’s story recalls the archetypal struggle of the modern artist. He was born in obscurity and, despite showing early promise, rejected by the official academies. He spent years laboring as an ornamental sculptor before success and scandal set him on the road to international fame. By the time of his death, he was likened to Michelangelo. His reputation as the father of modern sculpture remains unchanged, and in recent years the wider exhibition of his many drawings has also elevated his reputation as a draughtsman. However, his many intimate – some have suggested exploitative – drawings of his models have altered the nature of the traditional respect paid to this eminent artist. Rodin stripped away many of the narative references to classical myth that were still attached to academic sculpture in the late nineteenth century and placed a new stress on the dignity of simple human moments. The fame of works such as The Kiss (1884), The Thinker (1880), and The Age of Bronze (1876) has transformed such depictions into paragons of high art, yet until Rodin’s age, such sculpture’s importance and novelty was not appreciated. Instead of representing gods or muses, he sculpted lifelike figures in distinctly modern attitudes of love, thought, and proud physicality. Rodin’s achievement as a sculptor was to find a way to make the brute materiality of sculpture express the fleeting mobility of the modern individual. To achieve this, he abandoned the polished and idealized figures of academic sculpture and produced rougher, more unfinished surfaces, which better expressed restlessness, corporeality, and movement. While this often suggests psychological agitation, it also evokes the constant motion characteristic of life in modern times. Rodin’s work process often encouraged him to reuse compositions in different ways. Most famously, figures that appear in his The Gates of Hell were often rendered at later dates, created separately and at different scales. But Rodin would also represent the same figure multiple times in the same sculpture or fragment figures into individual body parts like hands or arms. All of these processes were encouraged by his very unclassical approach to composition, and they produced strange and jarring effects.