1840 - 1917
"When a good artist makes a sculpture of the human body, he not only depicts the muscles but also the life that warms them".
- Auguste Rodin - L'art 1911
Sketcher, painter, engraver, sculptor and collector, Auguste Rodin is recognized worldwide for the exceptional authenticity of his anatomical sculptures. He strongly influenced twentieth century sculpture by his assemblage techniques and prepared the way for symbolism by adopting literary and mythological themes.
Born into a modest family, Rodin began drawing at the age of ten and four years later was accepted at a special school for drawing and mathematics called "La Petite École”. There he discovered his passion for sculpture. On three occasions, he tried unsuccessfully to enter the École des Beaux-Arts. He was then hired as a craftsman for several decorators and ornamentists. Encouraged by the Father Superior to pursue an artistic career, he left the Pères du Très-Saint-Sacrement, which he had joined the previous year. In 1863, the year Camille Claudel was born, he began an almost ten-year-long collaboration with Carrier-Belleuse, a sculptor whose works were in vogue at the court of Emperor Napoleon III. He also met Rose Beuret, who would act as his model. They had a son two years later, Auguste-Eugène Beuret. He would marry her in 1917, after keeping company with her for fifty-three years.
After the war of 1870, in which he served as a corporal in the National Guard before being discharged for myopia, he travelled to Belgium and painted in the style of Rubens. He then went to Italy and studied the work of Michelangelo. Returning to Paris, he visited the cathedrals of France, which he continued to do throughout his life. He exhibited his first great work, the Age of Bronze, at the Salon des beaux-Arts. This was a plaster statue of a young man; the National Gallery of Canada acquired a bronze of it in 1956. The work seemed so lively that Rodin was accused of casting a live model, which was prohibited. The artist was vindicated by a group of painters and sculptors. The French government later bought a bronze of the controversial statue to demonstrate its good faith. This controversy drew the public’s attention to this thirty-seven-year-old sculptor and marked the true start of his career, which would last forty years. In 1879, the government commissioned a monumental door for the future Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Rodin, who chose as his theme Dante’s Divine Comedy, worked at it until the end of his days without ever completing it or casting it in bronze. But the characters that make up The Gates of Hell would prove an inexhaustible source of creativity. He would give them an existence in their own right by reproducing them endlessly in various forms and materials. Rodin created the famous The Thinker in 1882, then The Kiss in 1886, whose sensuality shocked the public. At that time, Rodin and Camille Claudel hid their love in the master’s studio.
Auguste Rodin won many honours. He was named Knight, Officer, Commander and finally Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour. He also received several honorary doctorates from various universities.
Rodin donated his entire collection, his photographs, his archives as well as his sculptures and drawings to the State with the goal of having a museum devoted to him. Two years after his death, his greatest desire was realized and the Musée Rodin opened its doors to the public at the Hôtel Biron in Paris.
Photography: Alvin Langdon Coburn, National Gallery of Canada study collection
Born in Paris, France, 12 November 1840
Died in Meudon, France, 17 November 1917
Library and Archives