Auguste Rodin (René François Auguste Rodin), born in Paris on November 12, 1840 and died in Meudon on November 17, 1917, is one of the most important French sculptors of the second half of the nineteenth century, considered one of the fathers of modern sculpture.
Heir to the centuries of humanism, Rodin”s realist art is an achievement, a cross between Romanticism and Impressionism, whose sculpture is shaped by the struggle between form and light.
The virility of the artist, nicknamed in his time the “Sacred Goat”, provoked semi-public or private dramas and is at the center of a plastic expression of sensuality, eroticism, but also of pain. He was the companion, part of his life, of the sculptor Camille Claudel.
Through his capacity for work and organization, Rodin has left an extraordinary body of work, of which only the Rodin Museum in Paris holds the moral and inalienable rights of the sculptor.
Auguste Rodin was born into a family with no financial problems, but not bourgeois, on November 12, 1840 at no. 3, rue de l”Arbalète, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. His father, Jean-Baptiste, born in Yvetot in 1803, moved to Paris in 1830 as an office boy at the police headquarters. His mother, Marie Cheffer (1807-1871), was the daughter of a Lorraine weaver working in Landroff who moved to Paris in 1832, where Marie married Jean-Baptiste in 1836. Auguste had an older sister, Maria Louise (1837-1862) and a younger sister, Anna Olympe (1844-1848). From his father”s first marriage in 1829 to Gabrielle Cateneau (1809-1836), he had a half-sister, Clothilde (b. 1832), of whom nothing is known after Jean-Baptiste”s second marriage in 1836.
His parents formed a close-knit household in which the solid virtues of a provincial and religious education were passed on to their children, especially by his mother, a housewife. After attending the elementary school of the Brothers of the Christian Doctrine between 1848 and 1849, he was sent to Beauvais from 1851 to 1853 to the boarding school run by his uncle Jean-Hyppolite Rodin (1802-1855), where he was bored, but where he discovered the cathedral and Gothic art.
Partly because of his undetected myopia, he had a mediocre education, and for a long time he was handicapped by a poor command of French. Since he preferred to scribble drawings in his notebooks, his parents enrolled him in 1854, at the age of 14, at the École spéciale de dessin et de mathématiques in Paris, known as the Petite École (which later became the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs), where he was taught by the talented Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, whose method consisted of preserving each student”s sensitivity by teaching him to use his eyesight and visual memory, and by the painter Belloc. It was there that he met Alphonse Legros.
His vocation was revealed when he pushed open the door of a classroom where students were kneading clay. In 1855, he discovered sculpture with Antoine-Louis Barye, then Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. He then went regularly to the Louvre Museum to draw from the antique, to the print cabinet of the Imperial Library, and to the drawing class of the Manufacture des Gobelins, where he worked on nudes. In 1857, he left the Petite École and, with a talent recognized by his teachers, following the advice of the sculptor Hippolyte Maindron, he attempted the entrance exam to the École des Beaux-Arts, where he passed the drawing test, but failed three times in a row at the sculpture test, his lack of humanistic culture being detrimental to him and his style not conforming to the neo-classical traditions that prevailed there. He was then forced to work to feed himself and worked as a craftsman-practitioner in the workshops of various sculptors, ornamental staffers and decorators, such as Garnier, Blanche or Michel-Victor Cruchet. It is with one of them that his friendship with Jules Dalou begins.
The activity of this period is particularly stimulated by the urban planning work of the prefect of Paris, Baron Haussmann, as well as by the development of the taste of the time for ornamentation. On December 8, 1862, deeply affected by the death of his sister Maria, Rodin underwent a mystical crisis and entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Realizing that Brother Augustin was not very gifted for the monastic life, Father Eymard – whose bust he had had time to make – convinced him to pursue his artistic path. Rodin thus left the congregation in May 1863.
Collaboration with Carrier-Belleuse and Van Rasbourgh
In 1864, he met Rose Beuret, the daughter of a farmer from Haute-Marne. This illiterate 20 year old seamstress served as a model for him and became his companion. He married her on January 29, 1917, at the end of their lives, a reward for this discreet, devoted and faithful woman, even though he had many liaisons (Camille Claudel, Gwen John, the Duchess of Choiseul, from 1907 to 1912). In 1866, he had a son with her, Auguste Eugène Beuret (1866-1934), whom he never recognized. Rose was several times Rodin”s model, testifying to his stylistic evolution, from Young Girl with a Flowered Hat in 1865, still influenced by Carrier-Belleuse, to Mignon in 1869, then Bellone, executed in 1878 after his return from Belgium.
His Man with a Broken Nose was refused at the Paris Salon of 1865, but the marble (which was made by Léon Fourquet) was finally exhibited in 1875. It was during the period 1865-1870 that he began his collaboration with Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a renowned sculptor of the Second Empire, who had also trained at the Petite École. Carrier-Belleuse brought sculpture into mass production, stimulated by the strong demand of the upper middle class of the time. Rodin worked in Carrier-Belleuse”s workshop, which produced numerous high-quality ornaments for the architectural decorations of major Parisian projects, such as the Opéra Garnier, the Hôtel de la Païva on the Champs-Élysées, and the Théâtre des Gobelins.
In 1870, Rodin accompanied the Belgian sculptor Antoine-Joseph Van Rasbourgh (nl) to Brussels, where he participated in the decoration of the Bourse du Commerce. He was mobilized as a corporal in the National Guard at the time of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, then reformed for myopia. In March 1871, he returned to Belgium with Carrier-Belleuse, with whom he collaborated until 1872. He made two colossal sculptures, Asia and Africa, and caryatids. He was associated by contract with Van Rasbourgh between 1871 and 1876, with whom he participated, among other things, in the decoration of the Palais des Académies in Brussels. He also collaborated with Jules Pecher in the realization of the Monument to Jean François Loos (nl) in Antwerp (1876), now dismantled. At this time, Rodin was living with Rose Beuret, whom he painted as Fleur des champs. It was also at this time that he developed his approach of presenting the same sculpture three times in different exhibitions in three different techniques: terracotta.
Trip to Italy and study of Michelangelo
In 1875, he realized one of his great dreams by making his Grand Tour. He travels to Italy to discover the artistic treasures of Turin, Genoa, Pisa, Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples, “to discover the secrets” of Donatello, and above all, of Michelangelo, whose “allusions and borrowings from his art are perceptible in his work, both in the attitudes of the sculpted bodies and in the work of the marble, playing with the contrast between the polished surfaces and those that are barely roughened”, using the technique and aesthetics of the non-finished. On his return to France, he visited the French cathedrals. In 1876, he exhibited for the first time in the United States at the International and Universal Exhibition in Philadelphia.
First great work and success
In 1877, at the age of 37, he returned to Paris and produced his first major work, L”Âge d”airain, a life-size plaster statue of a young man, which he exhibited at the Cercle artistique et littéraire in Brussels and the Salon des artistes français in Paris. His statue gave such an impression of life that he was accused of having made a cast from life. This resounding success with a whiff of scandal launched his fortune and his forty-year career. Official commissions abounded and Rodin became a portraitist of high society.
In 1878, Rodin created his larger-than-life Saint John the Baptist to prove definitively that he did not resort to casting from life. Rodin then influenced sculpture by the expressiveness of forms, feelings, sensuality and the care taken to restore emotion, by the expression given to parts of the body such as the hands, feet, etc. He participated in the invention of a style by developing new techniques of sculpture such as assembly, multiplication, in total rupture with the academism of the time. In 1879, he participated in a competition for the erection of a monument commemorating the 1870 war in Courbevoie, but his project for La Défense de Paris was rejected; his friendships with communards may also have influenced the jury. He joined the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres de porcelaine, until December 1882. During this time, he formed a passionate and tumultuous relationship with the sculptor Camille Claudel, twenty-four years his junior.
In 1880, the State bought his sculpture L”Âge d”airain and granted him a studio at the Dépôt des marbres at no 182, rue de l”Université, in the 7th arrondissement of Paris (a place of work that he would keep all his life). The State commissioned him to create La Porte de l”enfer, inspired by Dante Alighieri”s Divine Comedy, and a transposition of Charles Baudelaire”s Les Fleurs du mal, for the future Musée des Arts Décoratifs of the Louvre Palace. This was his most monumental work, 7 meters high and 8 tons, which was neither delivered nor cast in bronze during his lifetime, and on which he worked alone until the end of his life. The work was cast in bronze in 1926 (Paris, Musée Rodin).
In 1881, the State bought his sculpture Saint Jean Baptiste. He left for England where he learned engraving in London with Alphonse Legros, a former student of the Petite École. On his return to France, he created the sculpted figures of Adam, Eve and The Thinker in 1882. In 1883, he created the Bust of Victor Hugo. His father died that year.
Camille Claudel : the passion
In 1882, Rodin replaced Alfred Boucher as teacher of a group of young sculptors, including Camille Claudel. He noticed the gifts of this one, who was then nineteen years old. In 1884, she entered as a practitioner and served as a model for Torso of a Woman and My Brother for Rodin. In 1885, she was the model for L”Aurore. In his studio, she will actively participate in the creation of the group of the Burghers of Calais, commissioned in 1885 by the municipality of Calais, in memory of Eustace de Saint Pierre, which legend has it that she modeled the hands of Pierre de Wissant, while Jessie Lipscomb was responsible for the dress. Rodin and Camille Claudel will have a passionate and tumultuous artistic and love relationship, which became legendary, lasting from ten to fifteen years, known by all at the time.
In 1884, he created the sculpture L”Eternel Printemps, probably inspired by this passion for Camille Claudel, as well as L”Adieu in 1892, in which Rodin assembled a portrait of Camille Claudel and the hands of Pierre de Wissant, whose marble work he entrusted to Jean-Marie Mengue, and that of La Convalescente to Emile Matruchot in 1902. Despite a promise made by letter, Rodin refused Camille Claudel”s requests for marriage – he would not marry Rose until she was dying – and Claudel eventually moved away to develop her art alone.
Rodin would have had several children with her, probably two.
In 1887, he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and illustrated with drawings the edition of Baudelaire”s Fleurs du mal, published by Paul Gallimard. The French government commissioned him to create The Kiss, in marble, for the 1889 Universal Exhibition in Paris. Rodin chooses Jean Turcan as his practitioner. The Kiss will be made directly in marble from his terracotta model. In 1889, Auguste Rodin was one of the founding members of the Société nationale des Beaux-arts and was commissioned to create a monument to Victor Hugo for the Pantheon in Paris (seated, then standing). He exhibited with Claude Monet at the Georges Petit gallery.
In 1891, the Société des gens de lettres commissioned him to create a monument for Honoré de Balzac. In 1892, he was made an officer of the Legion of Honor and succeeded Jules Dalou as president of the sculpture section and vice-president of the Société nationale des beaux-arts.
In 1893, he moved with Rose to Meudon, no 8, chemin Scribe, in the Maison des Chiens-Loups. Henri Lebossé presents Rodin with a mechanical system for enlarging or reducing sculptures, which allows him to mass produce his sculptures at different scales. Antoine-Emile Bourdelle, a young sculptor, becomes his practitioner. Claude Monet invited him to his home in 1894, in Giverny, Normandy, where he met Paul Cézanne and Clemenceau.
In 1895, he bought the Villa des Brillants, in Meudon, which became his studio with his assistants, workers and practitioners, and where he began to build his collection of antiques and paintings. The monument to the Burghers of Calais in bronze is inaugurated in Calais. In 1896, the Rath Museum in Switzerland presents for the first time his photographs accompanying his sculptures, and works by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Eugène Carrière. In 1897, with the publication of the Album Goupil (named after the publisher/printer) containing 142 drawings, he revealed his innovative working techniques. He presented his Monument to Victor Hugo at the Salon de la Société nationale des beaux-arts. In 1898, the Société des gens de lettres refused his statue of Balzac presented at the Salon de la Société nationale des beaux-arts. From 1898 to 1905, he had an affair with Sophie Postolska (1868-1942), one of his students, a young Polish aristocrat. In 1899, he was commissioned to paint the Monument to Puvis de Chavannes. The great Eve was presented at the Salon de la Société nationale des beaux-arts. He held his first personal exhibitions in Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague.
In 1900, Rodin was 60 years old. At his own expense, he organized a retrospective exhibition of his work in a pavilion on the Place de l”Alma on the sidelines of the Paris World”s Fair, which brought him international acclaim. He was named a knight of the Order of Leopold of Belgium. That same year, he met Hélène von Beneckendorff und Hindenburg, niece of the future Marshal and President of the Reich, Paul von Hindenburg, who would marry Alfred von Nostitz in 1904. Rodin travelled to Italy with her, thus reconnecting with the sculptural masterpieces of Pisa, Lucca, Florence and Rome. The portrait of Hélène von Beneckendorff that he executed in marble was sent to Berlin and Vienna, where it was admired and praised by the artists of the Secession movement.
At the close of the exhibition in 1901, the pavilion was dismantled and transferred to his property in Meudon (the Villa des Brillants) and became his studio. In 1902, the young Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke met him, wrote an essay on Rodin and became his secretary from 1905 to 1906. In 1903, he was made Commander of the Legion of Honor. In 1904, Rodin became the lover of the British painter and woman of letters, Gwendolen Mary John (sister of the painter Auguste John), who would serve as a model for the Whistler Muse and Iris, then he met the Duchess of Choiseul (born Claire Coudert, from a very rich American family), whose lover he became until 1912. Claire de Choiseul put him in contact with many wealthy Americans and had a certain influence on him.
The Thinker, a plaster version, is presented in London and then in bronze in Paris. In 1906, The Thinker was placed in front of the Pantheon in Paris. For the Colonial Exhibition in Marseille, Rodin executed a series of watercolors based on Cambodian dancers. He created the Mask of Hanako, a portrait of the Japanese actress Hanako. The exhibition of his drawings in Weimar, Germany caused a scandal. In 1907, in Paris, the Bernheim Gallery organized an exhibition of his drawings. The sculpture L”Homme qui marche (The Walking Man) was shown at the Salon. Marcelle Tirel becomes his last secretary.
In his studio, he received visits from many artists and celebrities (King Edward VII of England visited him on March 6, 1908).
In 1908, Rodin moved to the Hotel Biron that Rilke had introduced him to, where he met Vaslav Nijinsky and Henri Matisse, among others. Rodin travels to Spain with Rilke and the Basque painter Ignacio Zuloaga, his friend. His drawings are exhibited by the gallery of the pictorialist photographer Alfred Stieglitz. He was named Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1910. In 1911, the State commissioned him to paint a bust of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes for the Pantheon in Paris and England acquired The Burghers of Calais, for the gardens of the Palace of Westminster in London (Parliament of the United Kingdom). The Walking Man was installed in the Farnese Palace (French Embassy in Rome). That same year, the French press announced his forced departure from the Byron Hotel to live in the Palais-Royal. The Rodin Room at the Metropolitan Museum in New York was inaugurated in 1912. That same year, a Rodin exhibition was held in Tokyo.
In 1914, he traveled again to England with Rose Beuret. In 1915, he began the bust of Pope Benedict XV, during a trip to Rome, during which he met Albert Besnard (who also had to honor the commission of a portrait of the pope), but in disagreement with the pontiff on the time of pose, Rodin left without completing the work. He publishes Les Cathédrales de France, a work reproducing 100 drawings in facsimile. His health deteriorates. The sculptor Jeanne Bardey becomes an intimate.
He suffered another stroke at the end of March 1916, followed by a stroke in July. In September, he made three successive donations of his private mansion, his studio and his art collections to the State, with a view to creating a Rodin Museum. The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate vote to establish the Rodin Museum in the Hôtel Biron, the result of the work of Judith Cladel, the sculptor”s future biographer. He receives a commission for a monument to the memory of the soldiers of Verdun.
“And it is the derisory and solitary end of the two old men in the badly heated house” (in the middle of the 1914-1918 war, there is no more coal) that represents the photograph of A. de Combettes, published in L”Illustration, showing at that time a Rodin, standing upright and massive, in the park of the villa, holding the hand of his old companion with a lost look.
The last year
On January 29, 1917, at the age of 77, when the sculptor”s mental faculties were impaired, he married Rose Beuret in Meudon, after fifty-three years together. She was very weak and died of pneumonia on February 14, 1917, at the age of 73, followed on November 17 by Rodin, who was buried beside her in Meudon on November 24. Their burial is overlooked by The Thinker.
The Rodin Museum, at 79 rue de Varenne, in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, was inaugurated on August 4, 1919. The Villa des Brillants in Meudon, at no 19, avenue Auguste-Rodin, will also become a museum in his honor.
The work of Auguste Rodin consists of approximately 7,000 sculptures, 10,000 drawings, 1,000 engravings and 10,000 photographs. For the sculptures, the techniques used are clay modeling, direct plaster, bronze, glass paste, ceramic and marble. His main subject is the male or female human body, including portraits. In view of the extent of his work, both in number and imagination, and in view of the universal reception of his work, we can only comment on a part of it.
Rodin”s sculptures are presented in a wide variety of techniques, plaster, bronze, marble, but also ceramics and glass paste. Thanks to the invention of Henri Lebossé, who became one of his most important practitioners, he could increase or reduce the size of his sculptures at will. This allows him to make original works at a given size on the one hand, and to make a series of small-scale reproductions at low cost on the other hand, what Rodin called “his trinkets”.
Rodin made many portraits, modeled after the model between 1863 with the Buste du père Eymard, D”Alembert (1880), Carrier-Belleuse (1882), Jules Dalou (1883), Roger-Marx (1899), Gustave Mahler (1909), Clemenceau (1911-1912) and Lady Sackville-West (1914-1916).
The 1877 work, which made Rodin famous, is so realistic that Rodin was suspected of casting from life. It took several years for him to be completely exonerated, by presenting the model.
He revolutionized sculpture with a previously unknown freedom of form. He sculpted a dancer (Dance Movement H) without a head, and whose limbs form upwardly sweeping lines, expressing self-forgetfulness and the liberation of the body in dance. His famous Thinker is all unbalanced, composed of five triangles in a precarious arrangement, expressing the nature of the course of thought and its connection to the body.
Revisiting mannerism while associating it with a work of matter, he expresses with sculptures, such as The Kiss, a sensuality that sometimes shocks the public of the time. Contrary to the academic tradition, his sculptures are often without a base or on a raised base. His works are often recognizable by a finished form that remains partially set in a more rustic, partially rough-hewn block, which is directly inspired by Michelangelo”s non finito. The result is always a striking balance between a model stuck in the raw mass and a momentum given to the work that seems ready to escape.
Rodin, at the forefront of his art, left the molds of his sculptures at the disposal of the public institution, his museum, so that it, guarantor of his reproduction rights and his moral rights, could continue to defend his work. He had also prepared copies of his signature. A way for him to let others extend his work after his death.
Commissioned at the end of the 19th century by the Société des gens de lettres, the statue for the Monument à Balzac, both majestic and ghostly, gave rise to much controversy. It caused a scandal because of its appearance and its interminable preparation, and the Société des gens de lettres, which commissioned the work, refused it. They immediately asked Alexandre Falguière for another monument and Rodin”s statue was not exhibited until long after its first presentation. He was criticized for having kept only the “moribund” aspect of Balzac. Émile Zola, a great admirer of Balzac and Rodin, was an ardent defender of this work. Copies can be seen today in Paris, in the garden of the Rodin Museum, rue de Varenne, as well as on one of the platforms of the Varenne metro station on line 13.
Rodin used photographs of a horse-drawn carriage driver from Tours and an Italian model named Nardone, who posed much later, in his eighties, for Germaine Richier in 1947.
Rodin had the sculpture carried “standing like a menhir with a human mask” (according to Bernard Champigneulle) to his villa in Meudon, and it was there that the American photographer Edward Steichen discovered its beauty and sparked a movement of opinion to give it back its rightful place in the art world.
The plaster model and models appeared, among others, in 1908 at the inauguration of the museum of the house of Balzac, rue Berton in Paris. Georges Clemenceau would have used his influence to impose it in Paris and, in 1926, Georges Grappe, curator of the Rodin Museum, had two bronze proofs cast, but it was not until July 1, 1939 that a bronze copy, erected at the corner of Boulevard Raspail and Boulevard du Montparnasse, was unveiled by two of his friends, Maillol and Despiau.
Rodin wrote in 1908: “This work that has been laughed at, that has been carefully mocked because it could not be destroyed, is the result of my entire life, the pivot of my aesthetic.”
Begun in 1880, never completed, always resumed, The Gates of Hell is the synthesis of Rodin”s art. It combines all his sculptures assembled in a monumental door.
It is a sort of compilation of numerous works. Rodin is hurt and bruised that he was suspected of casting for The Bronze Age. Even if he was exonerated, he would always resent it. La Porte de l”Enfer, of which his poet, Octave Mirbeau, left us the only complete description in February 1885, will be a sort of outlet where he wants to show that he is capable of reproducing his works in miniature, in all their details, and thus, that the great achievements are authentically made by his hand. The Gate of Hell is a kind of climax to his entire oeuvre. “It will most likely remain unfinished,” noted Gustave Coquiot, one of his secretaries, in Le Vrai Rodin (1913). Rodin had thought of making the Gate of Hell the entrance to the Tower of Work, another unfinished project.
In 1957-1958, the photographer Carol-Marc Lavrillier photographed for a year, perched on scaffolding, The Gates of Hell, in great detail, trying to understand the work and the desire of the artist. These photographs, which are kept in Paris in the collections of the National Museum of Modern Art, have been the subject of numerous exhibitions.
The Temptation of Saint Anthony is a statue in the round by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. It is inspired by the novel The Temptation of St. Anthony, published by Gustave Flaubert and for which Rodin had a great admiration. It represents a naked woman, lying on the back of a monk prostrate on the ground.
Rodin also works through a series of fragmentations and assemblages, taking elements from various sculptures, but also from objects that he assembles into new sculptures by collage.
The Monument to Puvis de Chavannes is an example of an assembly with a cast of a column on which is placed a bust of the painter with a cast of a tree trunk.
Rodin made numerous hand studies which gave rise to very famous marbles, such as The Cathedral, Hands Joined, The Hand of God, or The Creation.
He realized several medallions for tombs, like the one of César Franck at the Montparnasse cemetery, the one of Stendhal at the Montmartre cemetery or the one of Jehan de Bouteiller at the Passy cemetery (Paris).
When Rodin is not sculpting, he is drawing. “It”s quite simple, my drawings are the key to my work, my sculpture is only drawing in all dimensions,” he wrote in his notebooks. Beyond the simple preparatory work, drawing is for Rodin another practice, another field of artistic reflection that he discovered even before sculpture, at the age of ten. As the inventor of the first draft, Rodin got into the habit of letting the model move in front of him without indicating an artificial pose, in order to capture the naturalness of the movements on the sheet.
Rodin got in touch with many artists, such as the painter Ignacio Zuloaga, the dancer Loïe Fuller, the American painter Whistler, the painter Alphonse Legros, Albert Besnard (with whom he exchanged correspondence and who did an etching portrait of him), etc.
Rodin practiced engraving which allowed him to distribute his drawings and sculptures. These engravings are collected in an album. He illustrated the Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire. He produced about 1,000 engravings. Auguste-Hilaire Léveillé is among the engravers who reproduced a number of his statues.Henri Beraldi, in his catalog raisonné des graveurs du XIXe siècle (11e tome – 1891) cites 4 works (extremely remarkable drypoints):
Rodin practices photography and uses it extensively. He had a team of photographers, such as Gaudanzio Marconi, Karl Bodmer, Victor Pannelier and Freuler, who photographed the models, the finished sculptures or those in progress. These photographs serve as sketches, but also for corrections, Rodin underlining or retouching this or that part with a pencil, pen, brush or wash, on the photographic prints of his sculptures. They are used to dialogue with the practitioners, as can be read in the correspondence with Bourdelle, or to correct the prints.
They are also a means of communication since the photographs of his works are exhibited during his lifetime or published in albums.
In addition, Rodin also collected photography with a collection of nearly 7,000 photographs. He was also interested in the work of pictorialist photographers such as Edward Steichen, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Käsebier, Stephen Haweis and Henry Coles, who are included in his collection. In total, the Rodin Museum holds approximately 11,000 photographs in its collection.
Writings on art
Rodin, undoubtedly helped by his secretary, the Austrian writer and poet Rainer Maria Rilke, participated in several texts on art theory, including L”Art (1911), interviews collected by Paul Gsell.
The models, the assistants
Rodin is a sculptor-modeller who models clay to make a sculpture to be molded in plaster, then cast in bronze or
The workers who collaborated with Rodin sometimes lived with their wives and children in barracks that have now disappeared on the site of the Rodin Museum in Meudon, where Rodin”s studio is still located today.
The heads of the workshop are: Antoine Bourdelle, Bertrand-Jacques Barthélemy and Victor Peter. The foundries are outside the Rodin workshop itself.
During his artistic life, he had many students and about fifty practitioners, including his most famous collaborator, Camille Claudel, who was responsible for creating the hands of the Bourgeois de Calais. In 1913, Claudel was interned at the Ville-Evrard hospital, then at the Montfavet hospital where she died thirty years later, on October 19, 1943, unhappy, miserable, rejected by all, after sinking into dementia. She will never manage the workshop.
A debate is raging between “Rodinians” and “Claudelians” as to the possible realization of certain works – until now attributed to Rodin – by Camille Claudel. The most recent research carried out on the occasion of the travelling exhibition “Camille Claudel and Rodin, meeting of two destinies”, shows the great complexity of the relationship between the two sculptors working together, in the same studio, on the same subjects. Both lived a stimulating but stormy passion, narrated in a romantic way in the film Camille Claudel.
Rodin”s wife, Rose Beuret, was his model and then his companion from 1867, and from whom he had a son. He married her in 1917. She was nicknamed “the mother” by the workers, she maintained the sculptures and cooked for the workshop. She was nicknamed “the bitch” by Camille Claudel, and according to Octave Mirbeau: “A little laundress, not in the least in communication with him. Rose Beuret calls Rodin “Rodin” or “the master”. Her portrait by Rodin was carved in marble by Antoine Bourdelle, who called Rose Beuret in all his letters “Madame Rodin”, in 1895, just like Camille Claudel”s parents.
From 1898 to 1905, he had as a pupil, and then as a mistress, the young Polish aristocrat, Sophie Postolska, who died miserable in Nice, in 1942. Hilda Flodin was his pupil and his mistress as well. The latter introduced Gwen John to Rodin. John was an English artist who came to live in Meudon and who was a model and also a practitioner and mistress of Rodin from 1904 to 1914.
Among Rodin”s best-known models was Marianna Russell, wife of the Australian painter John Peter Russell; she posed for the silver bust of 1888 (Paris, Musée d”Orsay, on deposit at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Morlaix), for the 1890 bust of Mrs. Russell, and in 1896 for Pallas at the Parthenon, for Minerva, and for Ceres (Paris, Musée Rodin).
The male models are Italians from Abruzzo, including Francis Abruzzesi (for the sculpture The Walking Man), Pignatelli (Saint John the Baptist), Fanelli. There are also models from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris: Poirée, Valentin and Corsi. Auguste Neyt posed for L”Âge d”airain. The head of Balzac is made from a photograph of a driver or letter carrier from Tours. He also had his son pose for the Pierre de Wissant.
Rodin uses photography to work, he has his models and his sculptures photographed.
The workshop and Rodin”s assistants
Rodin worked with many assistants, practitioners and molders, marble cutters, photographers, etc. who helped him in his Meudon studio, the Villa des Brillants, now a museum, where he is buried. Thus, The Three Shadows, Ugolin, Iris, The Thinker, or The Gate of Hell, were enlarged (or reduced) in plaster by Henri Lebossé, his main sculptor-moulder since 1894. In 1904, he asked a young Czech sculptor, Josef Mařatka, to practice the marble of The Hand. Eve at the Rock was carved in marble by Antoine Bourdelle, and the marble of The Kiss was carved by Jean Turcan.
Between 1884 and 1900, Jean Escoula executed the marbles of Eve, Eternal Idol, Madame Alfred Roll (around 1887, in collaboration with Louis Cornu), Madame Vicuna (in 1888, with the practitioner Louis Cornu), Danaïde (around 1889), as well as the horses of the Monument of Claude Gellée (in 1892, in collaboration with Victor Peter). In 1890, François Pompon joined Rodin”s studio, where he worked as a practitioner at the marble depository on rue de l”Université. From 1893 onwards, he managed the workshop, passing on the accounts, paying for the marbles and supervising the work.
The fitters are paid 10 to 12.5 francs a day; the practitioners, 20 francs. Rodin”s assistants work ten hours a day, a little less on Sundays.
The bronzes were cast with sand or lost wax, among others by Barbedienne, Hébrard or Rudier (from 1902 to 1952). The patinas of the bronzes were worked according to a special process by Jean Limet.
The working method followed three stages: fragmentation, assembly and demultiplication. Rodin drew and then modeled a sculpture in clay to a given scale with his own hand. The sculpture was then molded by his assistants, molders and plasterers, then drawn in plaster, before being reproduced by the techniques of Henri Lebossé, at a different scale (demultiplication). Rodin sometimes proceeded to unexpected assemblies of pieces by fragmentation of the previous plaster casts which, if they suited him, gave rise to an original in plaster, itself then cast and drawn in bronze in limited numbers, but at different scales. Finally, it could be sculpted in marble by a practitioner.
Rodin was surrounded by 5 to 26 sculptor-assistants, depending on the period of his activity. Some did only one job. Others stayed longer, such as Antoine Bourdelle, who worked for Rodin for ten years; Jean Escoula, twelve years; Ganier, twelve years; Bertrand-Jacques Barthélemy, eighteen years; Louis Mathet, twenty-one years and Victor Peter, twenty-three years.
The setting of points using a pantograph or a three-pointed compass is a technique for reproducing an original model in plaster to sculpt it in marble. It is done with different measuring instruments such as squares, compasses, frames, which take their proportional marks from points called “right” written in pencil on the original and marked identically on the marble.
The Rodin Museum has a list of 200 students, as many women as men. There are many English and American students. According to Judith Cladel, Rodin said, “It is the women who understand me best. They are very attentive, very submissive.”
The workshop, the Rodin Museum in Meudon
It was on the heights of Meudon that Rodin bought, in 1895, a piece of land of several hectares with a Louis XIII style pavilion. He moved there in 1897 with Rose Beuret. In 1900, he reinstalled the pavilion of the Universal Exhibition to which he added a portico recovered from the castle of Issy destroyed in 1871. There are 50 workers, practitioners, molders, staffers who work there and live with their families in barracks nearby. Rodin gives the work there every morning. He installed his secretary, Rainer Maria Rilke, there in 1905. Transformed into a museum in 1950, then restored in 1997, La villa des Brillants presents original sculptures, mainly plaster casts, which are as many sketches, studies, variants in successive states. In the center of the garden, the tomb of Rose and Auguste Rodin is surmounted by the Thinker. The Villa des Brillants was the workshop. The marbles were cut at the marble depository in Paris until 1901. The Hôtel Biron, now the Rodin Museum in Paris, was a place of presentation that Rodin discovered in 1908.
To replace clay that sometimes crumbles when it dries if it is not fired, Rodin used plasticine, composed of a fatty substance, which he occasionally combined with plaster and even clay for revisions or adjustments. Thus, the sculpture Le Sommeil (1894) is composed of terracotta, plaster, wax, plasticine, newspaper, wire and nails.
In 2015, studies at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble analyzed the composition of the modeling paste Rodin used for the portraits of Hanako and Clemenceau. Millimeter samples of two of his works degraded by time, dating from 1912 for Hanako, and 1913 for Clemenceau, have been studied with ultra-bright X-rays allowing to understand that he used two types of modern modeling materials, close to modeling paste. Protocols for cleaning and conservation were thus developed, such as the use of laser cleaning in the case of light or medium soiling, or the use of carboxymethylcellulose on absorbent paper in other cases.
In 1989, an X-ray analysis of The Thinker and The Burghers of Calais showed the difference in thickness of the bronze – thicker, heavier and stronger at the foot of the sculptures and thinner at the top, which is more brittle but lighter – and the presence of reinforcing armatures inside the sculptures, a technique made possible by the new alloys.
Auguste Rodin was also a great collector of Roman and Greek antique sculptures, Chinese antiquities, Japanese engravings and paintings by Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Frits Thaulow or Eugène Carrière, among others. These collections are kept in Paris at the Rodin Museum.
As soon as Rodin died, the question of the authenticity of the bronzes arose. Rodin himself described his bronzes as “reproductions of his originals in clay”, and he had given permission to the foundryman Barbedienne to reproduce his work on a smaller scale, with no limit on the number of copies.
After Rodin”s death, caricaturists mocked the artist”s plethoric production as much as the forgeries that his success engendered. In an April 1919 issue of La Baïonnette, Marcel Capy concluded a satire by writing: “I Rodin, grocer, healthy in body and mind, have never sculpted! All Rodins are fake!”
Given his fame during his lifetime, forgers quickly became interested in Rodin”s work, in particular the German Ernest Durig (1894-1962), who specialized in forging drawings, some of which are now preserved in New York at the Museum of Modern Art. He claimed to have completed and made in marble the portrait of Pope Benedict XV.
Until 1968, prints of the bronzes were not restricted by French law, so the Rodin Museum, the sculptor”s successor in title, could continue to produce original posthumous bronzes without restriction after Rodin”s death in 1917. Plaster casts duplicated by the Georges Rudier foundry, supplier of the Rodin Museum from 1952 to 1982, were misappropriated and used to make illegitimate proofs from the 1960s to the early 1990s. In addition, the art market experienced a major scandal during the 1990s, with the discovery of networks of forgers – including Guy Hain and Gary Snell – who were convicted by the French justice system in 2001, but whose activity flooded the market with thousands of counterfeits.
According to Béatrice de Rochebouet, who quotes Jérôme Le Blay, the director of the Rodin Committee created in 2005, there are at least 26 original copies of La Danaïde, for example. During Rodin”s lifetime, ten copies were cast between 1887 and 1917 by the founders François and Alexis Rudier, then seven copies were cast by the Rodin Museum (the rightful owners) between 1921 and 1942, and nine copies were cast by Georges Rudier between 1961 and 1971. There are about 8,000 bronzes listed among private collectors, a third of which are fakes.
Moreover, since Rodin”s work entered the public domain in 1982, The Thinker, for example, was published in 25 copies in Korea in 2000 and by the Valsuani-Airaindor foundry in Chevreuse since 1998. These bronzes are considered as non-original reproductions.
Although the artist”s work is now in the public domain, Auguste Rodin”s moral rights, which are perpetual, imprescriptible and inalienable, are held by his legatee, the Musée Rodin in Paris. The museum has registered the following trademarks: “R”, “RODIN”, “AUGUSTE RODIN” and “musée RODIN”, which are the exclusive property of the museum.
There are several projects for catalogs raisonnés of the sculptor”s works, led by the Rodin Museum and the Auguste-Rodin Committee in Paris.
More than fifty works by Rodin were in the World Trade Center in New York and were destroyed in the attacks of September 11, 2001. During the excavations that took place after the attacks, three bronzes were found in the rubble, seriously damaged, including The Bust of Jean d”Aire (preparatory work for The Burghers of Calais), The Three Shadows and a bronze copy of The Thinker, small model. This bronze was stolen a few weeks later from the police station where it was stored.
Rodin produced approximately 10,000 drawings, 7,000 of which are preserved in the Rodin Museum in Paris.
Albert Besnard made an etched portrait of him in 1900.