Undeniably the most famous French sculptor of the modern era, Auguste Rodin’s legacy notably includes immense masterpieces such as The Thinker and The Kiss. Although the sculptor did not experience immediate success, he did attract a huge amount of attention for his sometimes radical and questionable methods… Find out everything you need to know about Auguste Rodin in today’s edition of Art in 60 Seconds!

 Portrait of Auguste Rodin by George Charles Beresford
Portrait of Auguste Rodin by George Charles Beresford / George Charles Beresford [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Rodin was…

… a great lover of Greek sculpture

Both a talented sculptor and a great connoisseur of Ancient Greece and the Renaissance, Auguste Rodin was the proud owner of more than 6,000 antiques! In 1900, he even built a museum in Meudon to exhibit his treasures. Here he received visitors as night fell, revealing the full beauty of carved marble under torchlight.

Michelangelo’s influence on the famous French sculptor is often easy to see, with both artists’ characters commonly depicted in dramatic and passionate poses. Rodin’s portraits even drew on a form of inwardness in a quest for introspection in his models. He often surrounded himself with Greek statues while he worked.

Rodin’s two best-known sculptures, The Kiss and The Thinker, are both clearly influenced by Ancient Greece. But did you know they were initially intended to be part of a larger sculptural ensemble? Inspired by the Divine Comedy, an Italian poem written by Dante Alighieri between 1307 and 1321, the two majestic artworks were originally part of The Gates of Hell. In the end, however, Rodin chose to isolate the figures and give them their own artworks.

Rodin, Le Baiser (1882)
Rodin, Le Baiser (1882)
Rodin, La Porte de l'Enfer (1880–1917) / By Jahuey [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Rodin, La Porte de l'Enfer (1880–1917) / By Jahuey [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Rodin, Le Penseur (1902) / By Thibsweb [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Rodin, Le Penseur (1902) / By Thibsweb [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

…accused of surmoulage

Despite his immense talent, Rodin did not escape criticism and controversy during his career. He was even accused of cheating! The evidence presented was one of his finest creations, The Age of Bronze (1875), which depicts a nude male. The depiction was so striking and so realistic that he was accused of taking a cast from a living model. Indeed, the body represented is that of a young, 22-year-old soldier named Auguste Neyt. At 5’10” the statue’s anatomy is carved exactly to proportion.

Scandal continued to haunt the sculptor, who failed to shake off accusations of surmoulage. From that moment on, Rodin favored oversized sculptures in a move designed to placate his critics. In 1878, he presented his newest work, St. John the Baptist Preaching, which was over 6’6”! This time the experts were convinced by Rodin’s honesty. Ultimately, however, the controversy worked in the artist’s favor, and he saw his career take off and official commissions rocket.

Rodin, L'Âge d'airain (1877) / By Daniel Ullrich, Threedots [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Rodin, L'Âge d'airain (1877) / By Daniel Ullrich, Threedots [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Rodin, Saint Jean-Baptiste (1878–1880) / © Musée Rodin - Photo : Christian Baraja
Rodin, Saint Jean-Baptiste (1878–1880) / © Musée Rodin - Photo : Christian Baraja

… a creator of erotic drawings

Rodin’s life as an artist was always closely intertwined with his personal life. His passionate and enthralling love affair with his young student Camille Claudel is all too well-known. The women in the sculptor’s life were true muses for him. But Rodin was a multifaceted artist! He was a sculptor, of course, but also a photographer, writer and draughtsman. More than 10,000 drawings are now attributed to him, including 7,000 kept at the Musée Rodin in Paris.

Although he is today most associated with his statues, the human body fascinated Rodin even in his preparatory drawings and exploratory sketches of nudes. These erotic and powerful nudes were even subject to partial censor at British and American exhibitions, and occasionally covered up or available for viewing only upon request, due to their subversive nature. Among his collection of erotic drawings, his female nudes are the most well-known… A clear contrast with the subject found in the majority of his sculptures—the male form.

Dessin de Rodin
Dessin de Rodin
Dessin de Rodin
Dessin de Rodin
Dessin de Rodin
Dessin de Rodin

Rodin once said,

“When a good sculptor models the human body, they not only represent the muscles, but also the life that animates those muscles.”

Auguste Rodin

Did you know?

26 assistants worked with Rodin in his daily work in his studio at La Villa des Brillants in Meudon, France. The sculptor was also buried at the site, which became one of the two locations of the Musée Rodin. Each assistant had their own duties and everything was closely monitored. The studio was shared between studio assistants, casters, bronze founders, marble carvers and photographers.

The carvers would carve the statue in its real dimensions from a smaller original model drawn and produced in terracotta by the master. For a marble statue, for example, Rodin’s assistants thinned out the block of stone so the carver could continue the sculpture, all with the sculptor’s oversight. Camille Claudel also worked as one of Rodin’s assistants in his studio! Why did Rodin use this approach? Because it enabled him to produce copies of his works in different sizes without exhausting himself in the process.

His most famous artworks

 Augustin Rodin, Eternal Spring
Augustin Rodin, Eternal Spring (1884) / © Musée Rodin
 Auguste Rodin, The Burghers of Calais
Auguste Rodin, The Burghers of Calais / © Musée Rodin
 Auguste Rodin, Monument to Balzac, The Hôtel Biron gardens
Auguste Rodin, Monument to Balzac, The Hôtel Biron gardens (1898) / Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
 Auguste Rodin, I Am Beautiful
Auguste Rodin, I Am Beautiful (1882) / Auguste Rodin [Public domain]

Similar artists at KAZoART—Gérard Lartigue

At KAZoART, artist Gérard Lartigue passionately invites us to discover his sculpted models. Dominated by the female form as well as iconic portraits and busts… the intimacy of his work has a number of parallels with Rodin’s work. The body is left as it in real life, raw and beautiful.