Auguste Rodin, born Francois-Auguste-Rene Rodin on 12th November, 1840, was a French sculptor. Although he did not consciously set out to break away from the traditional conventions, he is considered the ‘forefather’ of modern sculpture. (Lampert, 17)
The purpose of this paper, and due to the size, is to briefly look into the life experiences of Auguste Rodin that influenced his works and also, study the elements of his style as seen in any of his works.
The death of his sister Maria, four years later, traumatized him so much that he joined a sacred order. Father superior of the order, Father Eymard, noticed that the monastic life was not Rodin’s calling. He recognized Rodin’s talents and encouraged him to sculpt and draw to help him from his grief, and later to pursue his art. He met Rose Beuret, a seamstress who would become his life companion and the model for most of his works, in 1864.
At the age of 35 (in 1875), Robin, because of the pressures of the decorative work, had not yet developed a distinct expressive style of his own. One of the most influential events of his life was his six-year stay in Belgium, which proved to be an inspirational and creative period for him. It is his exhibition in Brussels that marked his debut as an independent sculptor. Then his trip to Italy in 1875 piqued his genius. The works of Donatello and Michelangelo saved him from the academics-oriented approach of his working experience. It is under the influences Michelangelo’s Dying Slave that he created The Vanquished, which was a painful expression of a vanquished energy hungry for rebirth. It was his first original work and it was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1877 as The Age of Bronze. This work was so realistic, unlike those of his contemporaries, that he was accused of having cast it upon a living human.
Partly to save himself from the previous allegations of having cast living humans, Rodin set out to create a larger-than-life figure for his next work; John the Baptist.
Another influence on Rodin’s works came from his affair with Camille Claudel. In 1882, as a favor to his friend Boucher (also an artist), Rodin started teaching a group of female students. Camille Claudel was one of them. Rodin, almost instantly, fell in love with her. He found her extraordinary, and her self-taught talent arrested him. Ruth Bulter writes, “that he was swept away by this new Maria, whose vocation was not the religious life but sculpture.” Although Rodin never used Camille directly as a model for his works, except for her bust, she is an inspiration in many of his works in that period: France, Thought, Dawn and St. George. (Lampert, 35)
Rodin had a distinct and unique ability to create deeply pocketed, turbulent and complex surfaces using clay. Unlike his contemporaries, his works did not abide by the traditional conventions of figure sculpture, in which figures were formulaic, decorative and thematic. In his original works, he refused to stick to the traditional themes of allegory and mythology. Instead, he build the human body with realism and flaunted individual physicality and character. A good example of this approach he gave to his works is seen in The Burghers of Calais.
When his army besieged Calais during the Hundred Year’s War, King Edward III ordered that all the people be killed in mass. But then he agreed to spare their lives if six of the principal citizens would come to him barefooted and bareheaded and with ropes around their necks, ready to die. This work was meant to be a commemoration for the six. The town expected a heroic, allegorical piece centre around Eustache de Saint-Pierre, the eldest of the six. Instead, Rodin centered the sculpture on the varied and complex emotions that every one of the six suffered.
Rodin’s piece did not portray a united, heroic scenario. Each one of the six is isolated from the rest, deliberating individually and struggling with his impending demise. Rodin presents St-Pierre as bearing poise and determination. He holds a key, and there is a rope around his neck. On the right, is his partner, holding his head in his hands. These two characters best show the contrast of feeling that is in the group. Yet, by putting them together, Rodin successfully achieves dramatic effect. (Gets, 31)
He also manages to achieve unity by placing the six in three pairs, each pair set from the others, yet attached to them in rhythmic movement. He also intentionally varies the spaces between the figures. The sculpture well achieves the purposeful relations between volume and space. (Romain, 34)
Rodin emphasized “nature” and “movement” as his basic guidelines for making sculpture. This meant working from a model. It is no wonder that he refused to employ allegory in his work. This seems to be in line with the argument of Empiricist’s argument that art is a reflection of reality, against the apparent stand of his contemporaries that art is a refraction of reality.
Gets, D. Rodin: Sex and the Making of Modern Sculpture. London: Yale University Press.2010 Print
Lampert, C. Rodin: Sculpture and Drawings. London: Yale University Press. 1987 print
Lampert, C. Rodin: His Life and Inspiration. London: Royal Academy of Arts. 2006 print
Romain, A. The Bronzes of Rodin. Aldershot: London: Oxford University press.2007 print