- LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0018
- LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0018
Prolific, inventive, and influential, Auguste Rodin (b. 12 November 1840–d. 17 November 1917) outlived the controversies provoked by his innovations and died as the most famous artist of his day. As a young man, he studied at the so-called Petite École, which trained craftsmen, thrice failing the entrance examination for the École des Beaux-Arts, which trained “artists.” At school, Rodin was especially influenced by the drawing master, Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran (b. 1802–d. 1897), who was known for his unique method of training the visual memory and who emphasized the importance of artists working from nature. Rodin first came to public notice in 1877, when the jury for the Salon des Artistes Français criticized The Age of Bronze for being too lifelike, accusing him of having made a life cast rather than actually modeling the figure. Three years later, the state acknowledged its mistake, purchasing a cast and also commissioning a doorway for a planned museum of decorative arts. Initially inspired by Dante’s Inferno, the portal, now known as The Gates of Hell, became a quarry and repository for sculptural ideas during the decades in which Rodin sporadically worked on it. There followed various civic commissions (e.g., Burghers of Calais) and private commissions such as the Monument to Honoré de Balzac as well as portraits. Despite a succession of controversies culminating in the critical firestorm roused by his Balzac in 1898, Rodin’s triumph was symbolized by his appointment as Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1903. Rodin’s artistic contributions were numerous and his influence was enormous. He helped transform the public monument with the realism and pathos of The Burghers of Calais. With The Gates of Hell, he helped reinvigorate bas-relief, which had been relegated by the later 19th century to a purely ornamental function. Rodin’s late drawing style, which involved a linear component and fields of colored wash, had an influence surpassed only by his introduction of the partial figure as a self-sufficient expressive form. Finally, his last great work, The Walking Man (1907), summarized a lifelong aspiration to instill sculpture with a sense of life and movement. Often characterized as the first modernist, he may also have been the first celebrity artist, receiving both desired fame and unwanted notoriety. Growing public interest is reflected in numerous published accounts of conversations, studio visits, and critical essays. Beginning in 1899, a succession of monographs and memoirs were published explaining his work to audiences at all levels of sophistication. By the first decade of the 20th century, few detractors remained and his influence energized two or more generations of artists. However, even before Rodin’s death, young artists began to react against his subjective technique and his sole subject matter, the expressive human figure. As new styles emerged, critics increasingly saw Rodin as the last and most extreme exemplar of an abandoned tradition. Beginning in the 1950s, however, young scholars reevaluated his work, recognizing in it the origins of modernism. Their insights, coupled with scholarly access to the sculptor’s own archives, resuscitated his reputation, and the consequences are evident both in the marketplace for his works and in the proliferation of studies.
Best known as an astonishingly prolific sculptor, Rodin was also an assiduous draftsman, producing thousands of drawings and watercolors in addition to experimenting with drypoint. Because of the magnitude and diversity of his accomplishments, many exhibition catalogues, such as Elsen 1963, Elsen 1981, and Lampert 1986, and monographs, most successfully Descharnes and Chabrun 1967, seek to provide a comprehensive picture of his myriad accomplishments, as Rodin did for himself in his self-organized retrospective (Le Normand-Romain 2001). Early on, critics recognized that the man and his works were inseparable: the extreme expressiveness of his figures was an expression of the thought and spirit of the maker, as when his earlier work and artistic origins are discussed in Butler-Mirolli 1966 and Magnien and Arensi 2010. As a result, these broad surveys generally intermingle discussions of the sculptor’s life and works, often seeking a common thread, as does Getsy 2010 in tracing the erotic element in Rodin’s oeuvre. Beausire 1988 may be construed as an index to his career, revealing when Rodin’s works were first presented to the public and where.
Beausire, Alain. Quand Rodin exposait. Paris: Musée Rodin, 1988.
A reference work of fundamental importance, Beausire documents the exhibitions in which Rodin participated during his lifetime and insofar as possible identifies the works included in each.
Blanchetière, François. Rodin. Taschen, 2016.
Produced in collaboration with the Musée Rodin, this monograph is part of Taschen’s Basic Art series and revisits Rodin’s artworks from a dual historical and aesthetic viewpoint. Rodin’s artistic process comes to life through an exploration of his diverse techniques, from modeling in clay; the transition to plaster, bronze, or marble; the importance of scale (reductions and enlargements); the use of the technique of the assemblage; and Rodin’s eroticism in his drawings.
Bondil, Nathalie, and Sophie Biass-Fabiani, eds. Metamorphoses: In Rodin’s Studio. Milan: 5 Continents Editions, 2015.
This exhibition catalogue for a major traveling exhibition analyzes Rodin’s and his practitioners’ creative act and his fascination for accidents and for the chance factor. Through constant transformations from one material to the other and from one dimension to another Rodin and his studio revitalized the language of sculpture.
Butler-Mirolli, Ruth. “The Early Work of Rodin and Its Background.” PhD diss., New York University, 1966.
For much of the mid-20th century, Rodin’s reputation was in decline. Focusing on his career up to the early 1880s, Mirolli’s dissertation is among the first scholarly efforts to reevaluate Rodin’s accomplishments. Her study is especially valuable for describing his artistic education, his work in Brussels, and the sculptural environment from which Rodin emerged using a wide array of contemporary texts.
Chevillot, Catherine, and Antoinette Le Normand-Romain. Rodin: Le livre du centenaire. Paris: Éditions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2017.
Published in conjunction with the centenary of Rodin’s death and the Rodin centennial exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, this richly illustrated catalogue examines Rodin as an expressionist and experimenter, as well as the effects of this “shockwave” after 1945, with his reception by successive generations of collectors and artists.
Descharnes, Robert, and Jean-François Chabrun. Auguste Rodin. Translated by Edita Lausanne. London: Macmillan, 1967.
This monumental and thorough “coffee-table book” is richly illustrated with historic photographs of Rodin, his associates, and works as well as handsome new photographs of his sculpture and drawings. The volume offers a comprehensive overview of Rodin’s life and work, but lacks footnotes supporting the extensive research evidently performed by the authors.
Elsen, Albert. Rodin. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1963.
Not all scholars have a mission, but Elsen did. Acknowledging Rodin’s attachment to naturalism, the aesthetic dominant in the past, Elsen nonetheless perceived him as “the Moses of modern sculpture” (p. 11) who opened the door to all the radical transformations that followed in his wake. Accompanying an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the flagship of modernism, this exhibition marked the beginning of Elsen’s campaign to establish Rodin within the modernist canon.
Elsen, Albert, ed. Rodin Rediscovered. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1981.
Two decades after reintroducing Rodin as the progenitor of modernism (see Elsen 1963), Elsen organized this monumental survey. The catalogue includes essays on novel topics, including Elsen’s study of Rodin’s plasters and his collaboration with Henri Lebossé, who enlarged Rodin’s models; Daniel Rosenfeld’s examination of Rodin’s work in marble; and Kirk Varnedoe’s survey of the photographers Rodin engaged both to document and to creatively evoke his work.
Getsy, David J. Rodin: Sex and the Making of Modern Sculpture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.
Elsen (see Elsen 1963) and other scholars of his generation saw Rodin as pivotal in the shift to modernism. Getsy further advances this thesis, arguing that Rodin’s sexual emphasis coupled with his cultivation of techniques that foregrounded process resulted in sculpture so radically personalized that his accomplishments led ultimately “to the abandonment of representation” and to the “overtaking of the artwork by the persona of its creator” (p. 120).
Lampert, Catherine. Rodin: Sculpture & Drawings. London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1986.
This major exhibition surveys works from throughout Rodin’s career but has as its unifying purpose the investigation of relationships among Rodin’s finished works, sculptural sketches, and drawings.
Le Normand-Romain, Antoinette. Rodin en 1900: L’exposition de l’Alma. Paris: Musée Rodin, 2001.
In 1900, Rodin organized a massive retrospective installed on the Place de l’Alma, adjacent to the 1900 Exposition Universelle. This catalogue accompanied the re-creation of the original exhibition. The original catalogue is reproduced in addition to essays assessing the importance of the exhibition and comprehensive entries on the sculpture, drawings, and Eugène Druet’s photographs of Rodin’s sculpture, which were also part of the original 1900 exhibition.
Le Normand-Romain, Antoinette. Rodin. New York: Abbeville, 2014.
Pairing insightful scholarship and opulent imagery this “coffee-table book” offers a panoramic overview of Rodin’s life and career. This new perspective on Rodin’s oeuvre is accompanied by crisp photographs, often in full and double-page spreads that highlight the details of his works.
Magnien, Aline, and Flavio Arensi. Auguste Rodin: Le origini del genio, 1864–1884. Milan: Allemandi, 2010.
This exhibition catalogue focuses on Rodin’s earliest work. It is especially useful for its discussion (and reproduction) of Rodin’s paintings done in the 1870s, his work within the atelier of Carrier-Belleuse, and the impact of his 1875 trip to Italy.
Masson, Raphaël, and Véronique Mattiussi. Rodin. Translated by Deke Dusinberre. Paris: Flammarion, 2015.
This richly illustrated monograph traces Rodin’s artistic career and practice based on archival documents from his early years to his most celebrated works, from his passionate relationship with Camille Claudel to his final years, marked by war and illness. A chronology, bibliography, and history of the Musée Rodin complete the volume.
Steinberg, Leo. “Rodin.” In Other Criteria. Confrontations with Twentieth Century Art. London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.
As one of the first art critics to have access to examining plasters and molds at Rodin’s studio in Meudon Leo Steinberg goes into the heart of Rodin’s creative process, analyzing immersion in space, multiplication of form and fragmentation, and the use of assemblage and craft.
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