Auguste Rodin (France, 1840-1917)

Born poor, rejected from art academies, he did experience some fame and recognition before dying. He was generally out of sink with the prevailing trends of his time (neo-classical revivals, celebratory and monumental). He often travelled to London to meet the Pre-Raphaelites and greatly appreciated the art of William Blake. Like him, he brought Dante's genius to the attention of Romantic sensibilities.

What he thought of The kiss:


"The embrace of The Kiss is undoubtedly very attractive", he acknowledged. "But I have found nothing in this group. It is a theme frequently treated in the academic tradition, a subject complete in itself and artificially isolated from the world surrounding it; it is a big ornament sculpted according to the usual formula and which focuses attention on the two personages instead of opening up wide horizons to daydreams."

What he thought of The thinker:


�The Thinker has a story. In the days long gone by I conceived the idea of the Gates of Hell. Before the door, seated on the rock, Dante thinking of the plan of the poem behind him... all the characters from the Divine Comedy . This project was not realized. Thin ascetic Dante in his straight robe separated from all the rest would have been without meaning. Guided by my first inspiration I conceived another thinker, a naked man, seated on a rock, his fist against his teeth, he dreams. The fertile thought slowly elaborates itself within his brain. He is no longer a dreamer, he is a creator.'  

On his approach to authority, and on his Burghers of Calais:

He was unconventional and often in dispute with his commissioners. The statue of Balzac for instance was rejected when it arrived with great delay because it was considered unfinished, and the Burghers of Calais were not appreciated by the city council, which would have rather seen a more traditional representation of its heroes than the bare despair and humiliation depicted by Rodin. The story behind the statue: �In 1347 King Edward III had besieged the French town of Calais for nearly a year, and by early August its starved population could not hold out any longer. Edward III then told the people of Calais that they would all be killed, unless six of its citizens presented themselves to the King, dressed only in their shirts, with a rope around their necks, and with the keys to the city in their hands. Rodin centred The Burghers of Calais around a modern version of heroism that can be termed �civic heroism', which draws on the collective and civic courage of the average person ( Zivil-courage ), rather than on the physical courage of the single and outstanding individual. Or, to put it differently, Rodin turned the statue into a democratic exemplum.' ( Richard Swedberg in Theory, Culture and Society, 2005)

His technique:

Sculpture: He is said to have infused the realism of his times with expressionism. He deliberately left unfinished parts and fragments on his sculptures. Great admirer of Michelangelo, he tried to capture bodily movement - which he defined as �the transfer/translation from one attitude to another' - in sculpture � which he defined as �the art of the hole and the mass'.

Drawings: Renowned for his technique of �continuous drawing', it is said to have inspired Schiele's style. Rodin would not let his eyes leave the model as he drew. He said he adopted this technique �to test to what extent my hands already feel what my eyes see.� This gave a sense of immediacy to his drawings.


Ambroise Vollard reports of a wild "slaughter", in which Rodin chopped off the head and limbs of a series of enlargements with a big sword. To his shocked guests, he explained that during the enlargement process, the right proportions of the subject had gone astray; the single parts, however, were of perfect shape. He leaves behind many unfinished works.

On women:

He was clearly attracted to womanhood from all perspectives. In large series of drawings, Rodin circles around the centre of the female body, the �eternal tunnel�, or The Origin of the World � the title of Gustave Courbet´s 1866 painting, that still provokes visitors in the Musée d´Orsay. Biographical note: his long term girlfriend, sculptress and artist Camille Claudel, ended up in a mental hospital and was kept there for 30 years. She is supposedly the muse of The Kiss, but Rodin married the mother of his child instead.

Related Figures: Rilke
What they said of him:

Rainer Maria Rilke worked for Rodin's secretary for several years. He said of the Burghers of Calais: �[Rodin] felt immediately that there was a moment in this story when something portentous took place, something independent of time and place, something simple, something great. He concentrated all his attention upon the moment of the departure. He saw how the men started on their way, he felt how through each one of them pulsated once more his entire past life, he realized that each one stood there prepared to give that life for the sake of the old city. Six men rose before him, of whom no two were alike. Rilke also wrote Rodin's biography, and this: Completeness is conveyed in the armless statues of Rodin: Nothing necessary is lacking. He describes Rodin as �a worker whose only desire was to penetrate with all his forces into the humble and difficult meaning of his tools�.

Rodin has a modest attitude toward his art. When he finished his Balzac , which remains the incontestable point of departure for modern sculpture, he declared, "It is now that I would like to begin work. Constantin Brancusi


Rodin Museum

Comprehensive resources on Rodin