Auguste Rodin – Progenitor of Modern Sculpture

Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917)
Photo by Félix Nadar

On November 12, 1840, Auguste Rodin, French sculptor and draughtsman, was born. He is widely considered to be the progenitor of modern sculpture.

Rodin was born in times of riots and revolutions that spread through Europe. France was hit by this wave of change in particular during the ‘February Revolution‘ in 1848 which resulted in the creation of the French Second Republic. But the 1840’s in general were also important for arts and literature with Charles Dickens‘ numerous publications and Edgar Allen Poe‘s last years of active writing.

Rodin was born into rather underprivileged circumstances and grew up in a poor area of Paris. Still, his parents were very supportive and let him attend the famous “Petite École” at the age of 14, where he studied not only the basic techniques and methods, but also learned to draw from memory through major improvements of observation practice. The excellent painter Rodin decided to focus on sculpture in 1857, but unfortunately failed the entrance examination three times. Therefore he had to unofficially begin his career with several detours. He worked with decorative artists while slowly learning the art of sculpture under various influences. A major contribution to his artistic work was the animal sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye, who influenced Rodin through his focussing on the details of the animal’s muscular movements. Another incisive event in Rodin’s learning period was his journey to Italy, where he studied the works of Michelangelo and Donatello, causing him to create a life-size nude figure as a tribute to Michelangelo’s works. Unfortunately, the sculpture caused not only great admiration throughout the community, due to its enormous richness of detail, but also skepticism resulting in accusations of sculptural cheating.

However, Auguste Rodin was now widely known throughout Europe and started greatest years of creation in the late 1870’s. He was an appreciated member of the artistic community. He met Edmund Turquet and through him, Rodin had the chance to move his works to a new studio, which caused him artistic freedom and a financial uplift due to many private commissions he had to take care of.

Rodin’s fame was nearly unstoppable in 1900, his works were duplicated numerous times and exhibited wherever it was possible. His style and techniques influenced the art of sculpture as well as even poetry, including the iconic figure of the Victorian society, Oscar Wilde or the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. His pieces were even beginning to take over the American market and found more and more lovers of his art there. Unlike many other artists, Rodin did not have to fear poverty anymore.

But despite his immense success, the artist did not stop to over and over re-invent himself. In his later period of active sculpture, he focused increasingly on female bodies and began drawing mainly dancers and produced many erotic drawings.

Rodin’s career ended with his passing in November of 1917, but his works and styles are still present. Many of his works are held in various private of public collection and the Musée Rodin was founded to honor his masterpieces. Rodin’s works were copied numerous times, showing how appreciated his detailed and vivid sculptures are. He is often compared with the great Michelangelo and counts as a pioneer of creating non-traditional patterns, experimenting with the human body and valuing its agility. One of his most popular works, which is mainly associated with the name Rodin is presumably the bronze sculpture ‘The Thinker‘ from 1902.

At yovisto, you may enjoy the video ‘Auguste Rodin – The Gates of Hell‘ by Yale University.

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