With dark clouds filling the skies, spending the afternoon in the Hôtel Biron or as it is now known, the Rodin Museum was a perfect choice. The museum was opened in 1919 at the Hôtel Biron, the studio and residence where Rodin lived and worked. It holds more than 6,000 sculptures and 7,000 works on paper. As we approached the museum we saw the golden dome of Napoleon’s Tomb and The Thinker from the manicured side garden.
Dome of Napoleon’s Tomb
The Thinker (1879-1889)
Auguste Rodin 1840 -1917
Rodin was a french sculptor who changed the course 19th century art and is generally considered to be the father of modern sculpture. As one can see in his early work, he started out in a more traditional 19th century fashion, but soon developed his own creative interpretation of the human form.
His more expressive and original work was not initially well received since his unique rendering of the surface textures were deeply pocketed, complex, and differed from the smooth and finely detailed surfaces of his contemporaries. He also rejected the mythological and allegorical themes that were prevalent during his time.
He sculpted the human form with realism, individuality, physicality, and emotion. He followed his own genius not reacting to public criticism and by 1900 he was considered a world-renown artist with his work in many wealthy private collections in Europe and the United States.
Early in his career, 1875, Rodin visited Italy for two months where he was inspired by the work of Michelangelo and Donatello. By going back to the renaissance masters he freed himself from the established 19th century French Academic style. In 1880 he received a commission to create two monumental bronze doors for a planned museum of decorative arts. Over the next four years he surpassed his initial inspiration based on Andrea Pisano’s bronze Baptistry doors in Florence to create an elaborate masterpiece, The Gates of Hell. The doors were never finished and the museum was never built. However, they are a remarkable achievement and from them other freestanding sculptures, such as, The Thinker and The Kiss were created.
The Gates of Hell, (1980-1984)
The Gates of Hell (detail)
The Gates of Hell (cast of detail)
The Kiss (1889)
In 1883 Rodin met 18-year old Camille Claudel and began a passionate and tumultuous relationship that influenced each artistically. Claudel was both his model and a talented sculptor. She assisted him on his commissions for The Thinker, The Burghers of Calais, and Balzac.
Camille Claudel (1864 – 1943)
The Burghers of Calais (1884ca – 1889 detail)
Rodin was commissioned by the mayor of Calais to create a sculpture commemorating the six townspeople who offered their lives to save their fellow citizens of Calais during the Hundred Year War. Instead of representing the men allegorically, Rodin created six distinct psychological studies of the emotions each man possessed going to his death. It has been regarded as, “the greatest piece of sculpture of the 19th century, perhaps, indeed, the greatest since Michelangelo” – art historian Kenneth Clark.
His sculpture of the writer Balzac was also criticized when shown. Rodin chose not to show him with his usual attributes but as an assemblage of two elements, the expressively modeled head resembling Balzac on top of a separate more abstract dressing gown. This revolutionary monument was not as much a portrait but a powerful evocation of the visionary genius whose gaze dominated the world at that time. The sculpture was not well received and when unveiled the commission was cancelled and the sculpture was never cast in his lifetime.
Aside from changing the course of art in the late 19th century, Rodin is credited for restoring sculpture to it’s ancient role. This role was to capture and freeze the innate forces of life – the beauty and pathos of the human spirit. By doing this he freed sculpture from it’s pedantic traditional vision and allowed for experimentation that would come later in the 20th century. Some of the artists who were influenced by Rodin are: Antoine Bourdelle, Constantin Brancusi, Astride Maillol, Alexander Archipenko, Jacques Lipchitz, Pablo Picasso, and Henry Moore.
To learn more about the life of Rodin, you can go to the museum website: