Auguste Rodin (12 November 1840 to 17 November 1917) was born in Paris to an inspector in the Paris Préfecture de Police and a former seamstress. He grew up in the Mouffetard district of Paris and attended a school for the training of decorative artists. Afterwards he served a long apprenticeship as a modeller in Paris, then worked as assistant to a sculptor in Belgium and as a creator of sculptures for the Brussels Bourse.
In his mid-thirties Rodin visited Italy, where he became hugely influenced by the works of Michelangelo. Not long after Rodin returned to Paris to live and work. Commissions started to come in, including from the French Government which was critical since in those days to cast in bronze, official approval had to be confirmed.
One of Rodin’s major commissions was the Burghers of Calais which can be seen in front of Calais Town Hall. Haunting, glorious and lifelike, the model depicts six prosperous citizens of Calais who offered themselves as hostages to the English king Edward III in return for lifting his siege of the city and saving the inhabitants.
Rodin had strong support among certain influential government officials and public commissions flowed. In 1883, artist Camille Claudel (1864–1943) became his studio assistant. 25 years his junior she also became his model, inspiration and mistress in a relationship that ended unhappily in 1893. You can discover her art at the Musee Camille Claudel at Nogent-sur-Seine. Rodin refused to abandon his lifelong companion Rose Beuret.
Seen as the father of modern sculpture, The Kiss, The Thinker and The Gates of Hell are three of his most famous works. They can be seen at the Rodin Museum Paris.
The Thinker: Probably the best known of Rodin’s monumental works. This powerful, thought provoking statue portrays a man in deep meditation battling with a formidable internal struggle.
The Kiss: A breath-taking marble sculpture of an embracing couple. It depicts 13th-century Italian noblewoman Francesca da Rimini from Dante’s Inferno, who falls in love with her husband’s younger brother Paolo. The couple are discovered and killed by Francesca’s husband. The lovers’ lips don’t actually join hinting at their being interrupted and tragically dying without ever kissing.
The Gates of Hell: Another scene from Dante’s Inferno. This masterpiece contains 180 figures ranging in size from 15cm high up to more than one metre. He worked on the casting for 37 years on and off. But, at 6.4m high the sculpture created technical problems which meant it was never cast in bronze as intended.
In 1916, Rodin bequeathed his collection to France. It contained his own sculptures, his working models with the casting rights, as well as drawings, paintings, photographs and documents of various kinds as well as the artworks he collected. In return, he required that the French government establish a museum dedicated to his art. There are two museums dedicated to his work. Musée Rodin Paris is in the eighteenth-century Hôtel Biron that had been the sculptor’s studio in the later years of his life. Musée Rodin Meudon is on the outskirts of Paris in Rodin’s former home.
Where to see Rodin’s work in France
Calais: Six Burghers in front of Town Hall, plaster models and drawings at the Calais Musée des Beaux Arts
Musee d’Orsay, Paris: The Gates of Hell can be seen here though not as functioning doors.
Rodin Museum Rue de Varenne, Paris
Nearly 300 works from Rodin’s collection are on view bequeathed to the state by the artist in return for turning this magnificent mansion into a museum. The 18th Century house was put up for sale at the end of the 19th Century, tenants were allowed to occupy the house from 1905. Among them were several artists, the writer Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), the painter Henri Matisse, the dancer Isadora Duncan and the sculptress Clara Westhoff (1878-1954), future wife of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1921), who first told Auguste Rodin about the estate. We can only imagine what fun they all had in the house together. In 1908, Rodin rented rooms opening onto the terrace, to use as his studios. The garden made a strong impression on him, and he placed some of his works and part of his collection of antiques amidst its greenery, a beautiful park in the middle of Paris to this day. From 1911 onwards, Rodin occupied the entire building and it became a museum after his death in 1917. See more at: www.musee-rodin.fr
Rodin Museum Meudon
Built on the heights of Meudon on the outskirts of Paris, the Villa des Brillants is a modest-looking, Louis XIII-style house in brick and stone. Rodin purchased at an auction sale on 19 December 1895. In 1900, about 50 people, including sculptor’s assistants, workers and casters, were employed here by Rodin. He continued to go to his Parisian studios every day, especially the one at the Dépôt des Marbres, but his most essential creative work was done in Meudon. Rodin’s living and work environment has been reconstructed from period photographs and houses numerous plaster models. The collection includes casts for his monumental works in their successive stages: The Gates of Hell, The Burghers of Calais, several studies for Balzac and monuments to Victor Hugo, Puvis de Chavannes and Whistler. http://www.musee-rodin.fr/fr/meudon/villa-des-brillants