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Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917)

Introduction

Source: Oxford University Press

French sculptor and draughtsman. He is the only sculptor of the modern age regarded in his lifetime and afterwards to be on a par with Michelangelo. Both made images with widespread popular appeal, and both stressed the materiality of sculpture. Rodin’s most famous works—the Age of Bronze, The Thinker, The Kiss, the Burghers of Calais and Honoré de Balzac—are frequently reproduced outside a fine-art context to represent modern attitudes that require poses and encounters freed from allegory, idealization and propriety. The Rodin mythology embraces the artist’s faith in the spiritual dignity of individuals that direct scrutiny can reveal; this is at its most blatant in Rodin’s portraits of French heroes such as Balzac and Victor Hugo, presented naked and vulnerable. His numerous biographers dwell on his rise from humble origins and his struggle to be accepted by the juries arbitrating entry to the Salon and to be awarded government commissions. Also part of the myth are the fidelity of Rose Beuret, his companion of 50 years; his brazen sexuality; and the unprecedented international fame Rodin acquired after 1900.

Set outside this familiar story is the artist who has appealed to people with an enthusiasm for the landmarks of avant-garde sculpture and life drawing. A massive legacy of extremely experimental and intimate studies—on paper, in plaster, some merely fragments, some not published until the 1980s—have helped contradict the criticism that Rodin’s mature work was compromised by rather dull copies of popular works realized by his large workshop.

Because he encouraged the reproduction and dissemination of his works in bronze and marble editions, Rodin is represented in many public and private collections. The largest collection of his works—drawings as well as sculpture—is in the Musée Rodin, Paris. Many of his original plasters are in the Musée Rodin, Meudon.

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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