Top 10 Fun Facts about Rodin


 

If you are interested in arts, there is a name you cannot miss. That name is Auguste Rodin.

The French artist was born in Paris in 1840, and died in Meudon (near Paris) in 1917, Rodin is considered one of the greatest sculptors of his time. He is one of the first to emancipate from the strict codes of antiquity-style neo-classic sculpture, and therefore, one of the founders of modern sculpture.

Raised in a middle-class background, Rodin was early noticed to be artistically gifted, by his parents. They enrolled him, at the age of 14, in a drawing school, which triggered his vocation. His life, and works, have had their fair share of scandal and mystery.

Here are 10 fun facts about Auguste Rodin.

Rodin

Portrait of Rodin by Nadar – Source : Wikimedia Commons

1) At the French Academy of Fine Arts, Rodin failed the sculpture test 3 times!

Nowadays, Auguste Rodin is known worldwide, as one of the greatest sculptors who ever lived. Whether appreciated or not, his reputation and talent are vastly recognized in the world of arts. And yet, it wasn’t always true.

At the age of 17, after realizing he loved sculpting, Auguste Rodin took the entry exam to the French Academy of Fine Arts. He passed the drawing test easily, but ironically, failed the sculpture test three times! The very talent that made him famous was not recognized by the prestigious institution. The jury reproached to him that his art was not conventional enough. Let us remind that neoclassicism was the norm, back then.

Throughout his life, Rodin’s style will have its detractors. Rejected from the Fine Arts, Rodin ended up working with several other sculptors, who eventually contributed to the fine tuning of his style, to the improvement of his art, and probably to his fame.

2) Critics thought Rodin cheated by moulding his sculptures on dead bodies…

As he was a young sculptor, struggling to make a name, Rodin was a hard worker. Working alongside famous sculptors, he had a passion for sculpting nude models.

At the occasion of an artists’ fair in Belgium, he sculpted an artwork named “The Age of Bronze”. The model used for the statue was his friend Auguste Neyt. The realism and thoroughness of the work were such that a lot of criticism emanated upon displaying the statue. According to those critics, such realism was not achievable. Soon, the rumor that Rodin had molded his statue directly on the model’s body started circulating. Some even mentioned it was moulded on a corpse!

Age of Bronze

L’Age d’Airain (The Age of Bronze) by Auguste Rodin – source: Wikimedia Commons

The scandal became so intense that Rodin asked his friend and model Neyt to pose in front of a camera, so that the jury of the fair could see that the model used to sculpt was very much alive! Unfortunately for him, the pictures never got to the jury on time… His friends publicly intervened in his favor to support the idea that Rodin was talented and did not cheat.

After finally convincing his peers, Rodin sculpted an oversized statue of Saint John the Baptist, to prove he could sculpt without any mold. The bad press finally turned to his advantage, and his talent was then recognized.

3) Rodin had a tumultuous relationship with Camille Claudel, who was almost 20 years younger than him…

With the help of a friend, Auguste Rodin met a woman who was to completely shake his life: Camille Claudel.

The young woman had a passion for sculpture, and was herself a sculptor. Quickly becoming a close friend of Rodin’s, she even turned into his pupil. After a while, both sculptors fell for each other, and became lovers. In their art, their passion helped them challenge each other and get better.

Due to an almost twenty-year age difference between the two, they had to hide their relationship, which eventually lead to them breaking-up, nearly ten years later. Despite the many signs of affection of the man, Camille Claudel had become increasingly jealous and the relationship had turned very explosive. A separation seemed the only way out.

Camille Claudel

Portrait of Camille Claudel – Camille Claudel Foundation – Source: Wikimedia Commons

With her works constantly compared with those of Rodin’s, Claudel spiraled down into a deep paranoia towards her former lover. She was convinced that Auguste Rodin conspired against her and against her work, and that, if her work was not acclaimed, it was because he prevented the critics to do so. She even often spied on him.

The muse of Rodin for ten years, Camille Claudel spent the last years of her life in a mental hospital…

4) Rodin never finished the Gates of Hell

The Gates of Hell is Rodin’s main work of art. He worked on it throughout his career and considered it unfinished until his death. This monumental piece, which was supposed to ornate the main entry gate of a project of Museum of Decorative Arts in the Orsay Museum current location, was commissioned by the Secretary of State to Fine Arts.

The Museum of Decorative Arts project was cancelled but Rodin refused to give up years of work and continued working on the piece, to finally expose it in 1900, during Paris Word Expo.

Supposed to be molded in bronze, the Gates of Hell’s original work in plaster is displayed at the Orsay Museum. Several bronze versions have been created and are exposed in several museums around the world.

Gates of Hell

Plaster of the Gates of Hell at the Orsay Museum by Rodin – picture by Deror Avi – Source: Wikimedia Commons

The complete piece is monumental and composed of several scenes among which The Kiss and the Thinker are some of the extracts that became famous on their own.

If you want to go see the Gates of Hell at Orsay, also don’t miss these other 10 masterpieces not to miss there! You may also choose our Skip the Line Orsay Tour by clicking here!

5) Rodin chose his pupils as models

As a sculptor, Rodin used models whom he chose among his contemporaries. As Rodin managed a workshop, he called many people to come and model for him.

Several female models who came there became friends with the artist and even his lovers sometimes. Passionate with his models, Rodin often asked them to move around the workshop, to walk or dance, in order to best capture the moves of their body.

He admired many women who danced for him and multiplied these occasions to perfect his art. He also drew them many times. Male models, on the other hand, were rarer, and were mostly used as nude sculpture models.

6) Rodin depicted explicit sexual scenes, outrageous for his time

A renowned sculptor, Rodin’s taste for drawing is less prominent in the minds. A women admirer, Rodin drew a vast ensemble of female erotic drawings. Nearly 7,000 drawings, organized in categories, resurfaced after he died, among which more than a hundred nude drawings.

Searching artistic renewal, Rodin avoided traditional nude drawings and made rather explicit sexual scenes. The focus of these scenes is mostly on the bodies and none of these drawings allow the viewer to guess who these women are and how many they are. These explicit drawings are another proof of the artist’s taste for women and for sexuality.

7) Rodin ordered others to sculpt for him, as he decribed the vision

Among the most renowned works of Auguste Rodin, many exist in versions made of marble. The Kiss or The Temptation of Saint-Anthony are some of them. However, the artist claimed he very rarely sculpted marble. Most of the times, he asked his assistants to work the marble, based on plaster models he realized to convey the concept he had in mind.

Atelier de Rodin

Rodin’s Workshop, painting by C. Weisser, picture by JP Dalbéra – Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although the practice was not a problem per se – it was actually quite common, criticism arose as Rodin’s fame increased. Many critics judge that Rodin was not the real author of his works, that he managed an “art factory”, and that most of his pieces were never touched by his own hands. To these, Rodin replied that the essence of a piece of art does not lie in its making but in the idea and concept at the base of it.

This philosophical idea could still be debated…

8) The Thinker is Rodin’s most famous work

The Thinker is Rodin’s most famous work of art. The statue was part of the Gates of Hell, and ornated the higher part, about the door itself. The location had a clear meaning, since the Thinker overlooked the condemned souls that gathered on the central part of the door.

Rodin chose to make a bigger and isolated version of the Thinker. Representing a muscular man lost in his own thoughts, the Thinker bother represented physical perfection and the search for meaning in life.

Rodin supposedly said of the Thinker that each and every part of his body was in a deep consideration. The naked man, with his head resting on his hand, magnifies the capacity of Men to think, like no other.

By isolating his Thinker apart from the Gates of Hell, Rodin lead each visitor contemplating the piece to wonder “what is he thinking?”. Like a modern Mona Lisa and her mysterious smile, Rodin’s Thinker is surrounded with mystery and leads us to thinking.

The Thinker

The Thinker by Rodin – source : Pixabay.com CC0

9) The Kiss represents the adultery of a couple condemned to wander eternally in Hell

Just like the Thinker, the Kiss was also part of the Gates of Hell. The fine sculpting strongly contrasts with the rough mass of the marble. The two kissing lovers mark a sheer difference with the rest of the statues of the Gate. The duality between the softness of the Kiss and the roughness of the base is a wish of the artist to give the impression that the two lovers try to escape.

The duality wished by Rodin is amplified by the duality of the theme: the couple’s love, happiness and joy are in contradiction with the hellish environment on the Gate. The pair is condemned to wander in Hell, the woman having an extramarital affair.

Later, to better underline to emotion of the couple, Rodin decided to isolate the piece, as well, making it a standalone.

The Kiss

The Kiss by Rodin – Picture by JP Dalbéra – Source: Wikimedia Commons

10) The Bust of Napoléon is worth around 4 million dollars (US)

In the early twenty first century, a student working for the Hartley Dodge Foundation in New Jersey was working on making the inventory of the pieces of art stored by the foundation. As she was working, she noticed a dirty plywood box against a wall. The box had spent the past two years surrounded with heavy machinery and rubble, since the building underwent long renovations.

Inside the box was a sculpted bust of a man. She quickly identified the man to be Napoléon Bonaparte. Near the base of the statue, a tiny signature indicated “A. Rodin”…

The investigations took time, but eventually, the sculpture was authenticated and officially considered a sculpture by Rodin. It was discovered that the bust was originally bought by a rich family in New York before being purchased by the Metropolitan Museum. It was eventually purchased by Ethel G. Rockefeller Dodge.

The discovery at the Hartley Dodge Foundation cost the organization several thousand dollars, to ensure the conservation and the protection of a piece of art by Auguste Rodin.  The bust itself is estimated at around four million dollars.

Still the property of the foundation, the sculpture is sometimes lent to museums.

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Villa Rodin

The Villa des Brillants in Meudon is part of the Rodin Museum – picture by Ibex73, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Without a doubt the most famous French sculptor, Auguste Rodin marked a turn in the history of sculpture and of art. His uncontestable artistic heritage is still exposed throughout the world, and you may explore his life in depth at the Rodin Museum, about which you can learn more here.

The museum is set in two locations. The first one is in Hôtel Biron, in Paris, and displays most artworks of the artist. The other one is in Rodin’s mansion in Meudon, and gives a much more personal look into Rodin’s life.

To conclude this article, let me give you this quote by Auguste Rodin: “There is truly no fine style, no beautiful drawing, no nice colors : there is only one beauty, that of truth being revealed.”

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