Auguste Rodin was a French sculptor, generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, even he did not set out to rebel against the past. Sculpturally, Rodin possessed a unique ability to model a complex, turbulent, deeply pocketed surface in clay. From the unexpected realism of his first major figure to the unconventional memorials whose commissions he later sought, Rodin's reputation grew, such that he became the preeminent French sculptor of his time. Today, Rodin remains one of the few sculptors widely known outside the visual arts community.
Rodin was born in 1840 into a working-class family in Paris. He was largely self-educated, and began to draw at age ten. His drawing teacher, Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, believed in first developing the personality of his students so that they observed with their own eyes and drew from their recollections something Rodin expressed his whole life. His first submissions to the Grand Ecole were refused and he started to earn a living as a craftsman and ornamenter for most of the next two decades, producing decorative objects and architectural embellishments. He took classes with animal sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye. The teacher's attention to detail significantly influenced Rodin.
In 1864, Rodin began to live with a young seamstress named Rose Beuret, with whom he would stay – with ranging commitment – for the rest of his life. In 1866, Rodin offered his first sculpture for exhibition, and entered the studio of Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse with whom he worked as chief assistant until 1870, designing roof decorations and staircase and doorway embellishments. With the arrival of the Franco-Prussian War, he joined Carrier-Belleuse in Belgium, then, Rodin spent the next six years abroad. He visited Italy in 1875, where he was drawn to the work of Donatello and Michelangelo. Their work had a profound effect on his artistic direction.
Back to Paris in 1877, he earned his living collaborating with more established sculptors on public commissions. The artistic community appreciated his work in this vein. He won the 1880 commission to create a portal for a planned museum of decorative arts. Rodin dedicated much of the next four decades to his elaborate Gates of Hell, an unfinished portal for a museum that was never built. Many of the portal's figures became sculptures in themselves, including Rodin's most famous, The Thinker and The Kiss.
In 1883, Rodin met the 18-year-old Camille Claudel. The two formed a passionate but stormy relationship and influenced each other artistically. Claudel inspired Rodin as a model for many of his figures, and she was a talented sculptor, assisting him on commissions. They parted in 1898.
Although busy with The Gates of Hell, Rodin won other commissions. He pursued an opportunity to create a historical monument for the town of Calais and a monument to French author Honoré de Balzac. His execution of both sculptures clashed with traditional tastes, and met with varying degrees of disapproval from the organizations that sponsored the commissions. By 1900, Rodin's artistic reputation was entrenched, he received requests to make busts of prominent people internationally, while his assistants at the atelier produced duplicates of his works.
After the revitalization of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890, Rodin served as the body's vice-president. In 1903, Rodin was elected president of the International Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers. During his later creative years, Rodin's work turned increasingly toward the female form, and themes of more overt masculinity and femininity. He concentrated on small dance studies, and produced numerous erotic drawings, sketched in a loose way.
Fifty-three years into their relationship, Rodin married Rose Beuret. The wedding was 29 January 1917, and Beuret died two weeks later. Rodin was ill that year and died in November. Rodin willed to the French state his studio and the right to make casts from his plasters. Because he encouraged the edition of his sculpted work, Rodin's sculptures are represented in many public and private collections.
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