Biography of Famous French Sculptor and Artist Rodin

About the famous French sculptor and artist Rodin, biography and history of his sculptures.

Rodin (1840-1917). While highly realistic, Rodin's work retained subtle romantic overtones. Through the medium of limited-edition bronze casting, his work is distributed today throughout the globe in far greater number than are copies of any of the Old Masters. In many ways it resembles theirs, especially in scale. Rodin thought big. He liked yards of flesh, monumental proportions. His Thinker owed at least something to Michelangelo's David.

A Parisian, Rodin was groomed as an adolescent for an art career but failed the entrance exam at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. So he studied under the sculptor Barye, while earning a living as a stonemason. At 24 he was employed in the studio of Carrier-Belleuse, a minor sculptor. Again he experienced defeat when his L'Homme au nez casse was blackballed by the salon. For the next decade Rodin created little of importance. In 1875 he journeyed to Italy, and the trip proved a turning point in his life. Exposure to classical and baroque art, of a more vigorous sort than existed in France, brought greater realism to his style. "Michelangelo freed me from academicism," Rodin later observed. The meaning was clear: Michelangelo's works would not have pleased the academies either.

When Rodin unveiled his 1st major work, The Age of Bronze, in 1878, it was considered too realistic to be true. Having used life-size proportions, he was accused of taking a cast from the model's body. But critics soon saw that Rodin needed to employ no such tricks. His Walking Man, which followed shortly after, was well received.

In his most active decade, the 1880s, he spent 3 years in the Sevres porcelain works and handled numerous public and private commissions. His work became a fad with Parisian society. Buyers clamored for it and were willing to pay dearly. For the Hotel de Ville he executed a statue of D'Alembert; for the Musee des Arts Decoratifs he began work on the monumental Gates of Hell. Still, he accepted other commissions. In 1884 the town of Calais asked him to sculpt a monument to commemorate its liberation some 500 years earlier. This was followed in 1889 by a monument to Claude Lorraine at Nancy. Rodin was in demand across the Atlantic, too. For Buenos Aires, he built a monument to Sarmiento, completed in 1898.

It was also to the 1880s that most of Rodin's famous nonportrait, noncommemorative sculptures belong: the Thinker, Fugit Amor, the Kiss. All in all about 200 works of this sort issued from his studio. Many were based on drawings and engravings by William Blake, Gustav Dore, and other artists.

By the 1890s Rodin was recognized as a builder of memorials and received more and more orders for them. Probably the best known is his monument to Balzac, which at 1st was turned down by the Societe des Gens de Lettres. After 1900 Rodin turned to portraits of living celebrities and did likenesses of many of the leading figures of the day: George Bernard Shaw, Baudelaire, Clemenceau, Nijinsky, and Pope Benedict XV.

In 1916, the year before his death, Rodin presented to the French nation his personal collection of his own works. A museum was built to house them, the Musee Rodin in Paris.

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