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Auguste Rodin

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Auguste Rodin: Nov. 12,1840-Nov.17,1917...Frence

"Modern sculpture must exaggerate forms, from a moral point of view."
~Auguste Rodin

One of the worlds finest Impressionistic sculptors, who was also quite Romantic, was August Rodin. His sculptures largely focus on the communication of a mood. This mood is projected onto the surface of these works in the form of surface texture. Most of his education came via apprentice like relationships he had with several artists. Although this was his situation, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Glasgow in 1906 and an Honorary Doctorate by Oxford University in 1907.

Rodin was born, raised and found art in Paris, France. He began to draw at the age of ten but would not get into sculpture until he was fifteen years old. Around this time he also attended a school that focused on the study of drawing and mathematics. Several times he attempted go get into art schools, and several times her was rejected. At the age of 27 he began to work as a sculptor’s assistant. Frustrated, he joined the French National Guard, but was discharged because he was nearsighted. He had worked with French sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse off and on for the past seven years but chose to begin to work with Belgian sculptor Antoine-Joseph Van Rasbourgh. He worked with Van Rasbourgh a few years, but at the age of 35 years old in 1875, Rodin took a trip to Italy so he could study the works of his idol, Michelangelo. Two years later he took the skills he had developed and the joined this with the knowledge he acquired through his studies in Italy, and developed a product so amazing that the Salon show committee accused him of using a live model for his bronze cast submission. The submitted work was The Bronze Age.

It was not until Rodin was forty years old that he would have the funds to buy a studio of his own. In 1880 he bought a studio he would own the rest of his life at the Dépôt des Marbes. The same year, France bought The Bronze Age and commissioned him to sculpt a door for the new Museum of Decorative Arts. This doorway would become known as the Gates of Hell.

Gates of Hell would be a work in progress the next thirty-seven years. It was never completed to Rodan’s satisfaction and was not cast in bronze until after Rodin’s death. The poet Dante Alighieri and his Divine Comedy inspires The Gates of Hell. This sculpture is the merging of the design seen on the doors of the Baptistery in Florence, Italy and an illustration of The Inferno: Dante’s story of traveling through nine circles of Hell in order to find Paradise. One of the main story points featured on the Gate is the Romantic story of Count Ugolino (an actual person and the story is an actual event). In Pisa, Italy, Ugolino was from a powerful family. He with Archbishop Ruggieri looked to take total power of the whole region. After citizens discovered what Ugolino had done, Archbishop Ruggieri was quick to push the public opinion that Ugolino was the one at fault to escape a backlash against him. Ugolino and his four young sons placed into a prison tower with the door nailed shut (historically, he was placed in the tower with two sons and two grandsons). The boys cried for food. The boys asked for their father to eat them, but he could not do this. After the four boys died, Ugolino ate them like a "mastiff grinds a bone." When Ugolino died of starvation himself he went to Hell for the wrongs he had committed and Archbishop Ruggieri joined him in Hell. Ruggieri had starved the innocent children and he will be the food for the eternally starving Ugolino. According to Dante, because Ugolino was a traitor to his community he deserves to be in Hell, but he is also the tool of the divine justice placed on Archbishop Ruggieri.
 
Gates of Hell
1880-1917. Bronze cast from Plaster. 246X157.5 in. Paris, France.


Rodin began to experiment with an idea if Dante thinking about his works. A monumental portrait of Dante. The design would be largely inspired by one of the Michelangelo works he had studied in Italy. Rodin took the posture of Michelangelo’s sculpture of Lorenzo de Medici and first modified this to be Dante thinking through his notions of the Devine Comedy. The idea evolved to be a scupture if the average man thinking about his life. This work is known as the Thinker.

The large plaster cast of the Thinker was exhibited in 1904 in London, England. The same year, a bronze version of these casts was placed on display at the Salon in Paris, France. Two years later the Thinker was placed in front of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy. Several sizes of the Thinker can be seen today in many locations worldwide, like this smaller version in the Smithsonian collection in Washington D.C.
 
Thinker

Rodin was commissioned by the city of Calais, France to sculpt Burghers of Calais. This work is a tribute to these six heroes of the Battle of Calais during the Hundred Years’ War who are seen as symbols of French patriotism. The war began (more or less) when the King of France died and Edward III, the King of England, was in line to become the next King of France, but France chose Philip VI to become the King. That got under the skin of Edward, but all was good because he was allowed to keep control of a profitable wine region that was basically in France. The countries were on good terms until Philip let David of Scotland (who was at war with England) have safety in France. Shortly after that, one of Philip’s trusted advisers, Robert of Artois, forged some documents to gain some inheritance money and Philip wanted him imprisoned. Playing this tit-for-tat game, Edward let Robert into England, where he was honored and named Earl of Richmond. This gave Philip an excuse to reclaim this prosperous region from England and restore his pal David as King of Scotland. This began what is known as the Hundred Years' War, that actually lasted 116 years. England had sent forces across the English Channel and burnt and plundered towns rather than secure any territories. Moving north toward their allies in Flanders, on the border was a perfect port city that could become their base of operations. Anyway, it was September 4,1346; England attacked the double moated and walled city that sat in the middle of a march. Calais had its food and water supplies had been cut off and the people were starving to death. They would resort to eating found animals in the city and had no fresh water. England attempted to scale the walls and catapult boulders through the wall, but fond no success. After eleven months the city was near the point of death. The town burned its military posts to the ground and asked Edward for his terms of their surrender. At first offering none, he eventually said he would spear the people if six prominent citizens (burghers) offered themselves as sacrifices, along with the key to the city gate. This was agreed one week short of a year from the start of battling in Calais. These well off and respected men had to dress in plain robes, wearing a noose, with the keys to the city to be executed for the good of the city. This sculpture shows Eustache de Saint-Pierre, Pierre de Wiessant, Jean d’Aire, Jacques de Wiessant, Jean de Fiennes, and Andrieu d’Andres as they exit from home to die so the rest could live. Although the king intended to kill them, Queen Philippa thought it would be bad luck for their unborn child (Edward the Black Prince). The king handed them over to the queen who gave them cloths and food before setting them free. The city became an English colony for the next 200 years. January 1558 did it was return to the French.

Fast forward to 1884. Calais is in search for an artist to make the memorial. It was a unique project. Usually we see memorials for heroes that are victorious, but in this case we see a memorial for the losers. The original idea was for only one man represented, Eustache de Saint-Pierre. Rodin read the story of these men in Jean Froissart’s Chronicles. This is a four book history based on eye witness accounts of the Hundred Years' War from 1322 until 1400. Froissart told their story and describes each ones physical appearance. Rodin was so moved by the story, he includes all six men as equals. He was commissioned to do the work for 30,000 francs (half for him and half for the cost of casting). He made drawings, casts, and small models in plaster, clay, and bronze. Making the larger work he had the slow process of sculpting, photographing, reworking, casting, and finishing. "The important thing for me is the quality and I think that it is better to do it properly than to rush, because statues remain." The city wanted "satisfaction of service" but Rodin gave them "pain and despair." After the bank with the loan for the project went bankrupt, he could finish it however he wanted, but he had no income from it so he bounced between the Gates of Hell and the Burghers of Calais. It was finished on December 17, 1888. The final cast product was delivered on May 28, 1895 and inaugurated with Rodin in attendance on June 3. "If indeed I have succeeded in showing how much the body, even exhausted by the most cruel suffering, still hangs on to life, how much it still has a hold over the valiant soul, I can congratulate myself for not having remained beneath the noble theme that I had to depict." Eventually, the Burghers of Calais was made into twelve bronze statues. They are located in: Calais, France; Copenhagen, Denmark; Brussels, Belgium; London, England; Philadelphia, USA; Paris, France; Basel, Switzerland; Washington DC, USA; Tokyo, Japan; Pasadena, USA; New York, USA; and Seoul, Korea. Only the first four were made in Rodin’s lifetime. Burghers of Calais did again have to leave the city of Calais during war. To protect the art from being a casualty of World War II, it was moved to the town hall's basement on August 28, 1939 and then snuck it out of the city for sometime so it would not be destroyed by the Nazis that occupied the region. The artwork was returned home in 1945. 

Burghers of Calais
1884-88. Bronze. 82.5 x 95 x 78 inches.

A year after starting Burghers of Calais, Rodin finishes another of his remarkable works, The Kiss. In 1888 France commissioned The Kiss to be made in marble for an exhibition in 1889.

Rodin’s career did not stop there. He went on to create many great sculptures. He bought a villa in Meudon that he was renting and was buying a large collection of art and antiques. He was not with out his romantic scandal. Rose Beuret was his on-again off-again sweetheart for most of their lives. Rodin had dated the thirty-something year old sculptor Camile Claudel when he was in his fifties. He then had a fling at the age of sixty-four with a model and English painter Gwendolen Mary John. She was his model in Whistler Muse. Rodin world marry Rose eventually. Rodin’s health was quickly declining by 1916. At seventy-seven years old, and Rose was seventy-three, they two were married on January 29, 1917 in Meudon. In less that a months time, she passes away, on February 14. Rodin died that November. They were buried side by side in Meudon, France. Their tomb is marked with a Thinker.

Previously, in 1916, Rodin donated much of his work to state of France. The Senate accepts this gift and voted to establish the Rodin Museum in the Hôtel Biron. The Museum opened its doors to the public on August 4, 1919. I have visited many of the large and small museums in Paris, and all things considered, the Musee Rodin is highly recommended.

thinker.jpg
August Rodin, Thinker

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063