| Auguste Rodin
François-Auguste-René 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 labouring 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 was born in 1840 into a working-class family in Paris, the second child of Marie Cheffer and Jean-Baptiste Rodin, who was a police department clerk. He was largely self-educated, and began to draw at age 10. Between ages 14 and 17, he attended the Petite École, a school specializing in art and mathematics where he studied drawing and painting. His drawing teacher Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran believed in first developing the personality of his students so that they observed with their own eyes and drew from their recollections, and Rodin expressed appreciation for his teacher much later in life. It was at Petite École that he met Jules Dalou and Alphonse Legros.
Rodin later worked under fellow sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse and took on a major project assigned to him in Brussels, Belgium. A fateful trip to Italy in 1875 with an eye on Michelangelo's work further stirred Rodin's inner artist, enlightening him to new kinds of possibilities; he returned to Paris inspired to design and create.
The Gates of Hell
The Gates of Hell, a monumental portal covered with sculptural relief, was Rodin’s first commission from the French government. Edmond Turquet, newly appointed Under Secretary of Fine Arts and an admirer of Rodin’s sculpture, commissioned the work on August 16, 1880, for a projected Musée des Arts Décoratifs to be built on the site of what is now the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The Gates of Hell comprised 186 figures in its final form. Many of Rodin's best-known sculptures started as designs of figures for this composition, such as The Thinker, The Three Shades, and The Kiss, and were only later presented as separate and independent works. Other well-known works derived from The Gates are Ugolino, Fallen Caryatid Carrying her Stone, Fugit Amor, She Who Was Once the Helmet-Maker's Beautiful Wife, The Falling Man, and The Prodigal Son.
“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 different approach to composition, and they produced strange and jarring effects.” (Auguste Rodin Sculptures, Bio, Ideas)
Rodin stood out from the rest of the sculptors of his period because of his willingness to do things differently. When others made huge sculptures of gods and goddesses, Rodin focused on showing the simple nature of the modern human beings. His works were underappreciated by the people of his time, but today he is recognized in the art world as the father of modern sculpture.
Written by: Tom J Pulickan