Au­guste Rodin: founder of im­pres­sion­ism in sculp­ture

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - By Mona Iskan­dar

The French sculp­tor Au­guste Rodin was not a rebel and did not want to break tra­di­tions or revo­lu­tionise art. He was in­ter­ested in show­ing char­ac­ter and emo­tions rather than dec­o­ra­tive beauty and his­tor­i­cal events. He em­pha­sised the in­di­vid­ual through his fea­tures, stub­bornly dis­re­gard­ing his clients’ re­quests. He in­flu­enced the de­vel­op­ment of 20th Cen­tury sculp­ture more than any other artist of his time, paving the way for the mod­ern era.

Rodin dis­carded Greek mythol­ogy and dec­o­ra­tive work, and went deep to con­vey suf­fer­ing, joy, pen­sive­ness, anx­i­ety or un­ful­filled pas­sion. He fo­cused on the in­di­vid­ual through the phys­i­cal tex­ture and the in­ter­play of shadow and light. As ex­pected, his work was met with re­sis­tance and he was crit­i­cised for the in­for­mal poses of his mod­els and for treat­ing heroes and com­mon peo­ple sim­i­larly. Rodin was born in 1840 to mid­dle class par­ents, and this year marks the cen­ten­nial of his death in 1917. He started draw­ing at ten, and at 15 be­gan se­ri­ous art classes. In 1964, his sis­ter’s death af­fected him so much that he de­cided to give up worldly life and join the Catholic or­der. For­tu­nately, the head of the con­gre­ga­tion de­tected his artis­tic ta­lent and con­vinced him to leave the or­der and go back to his sculp­ture.

For a long time the French artist’s work was not ap­pre­ci­ated, and need­ing a job, he ac­cepted work in Brus­sels to dec­o­rate the ceil­ing of the stock ex­change build­ing. He was away from France for six years and saved enough money to visit Italy, where the mas­ter­pieces of Michelan­gelo com­pletely trans­formed him. He later said:” It is Michelan­gelo who has freed me from aca­demic sculp­ture.”

In 1864, Rodin met Rose Beuret, his life­time com­pan­ion whom he mar­ried in 1917, a month be­fore she passed away and a few months be­fore he joined her. Rodin had many af­fairs, but his re­la­tion­ship with his stu­dent Camille Claudel was the most in­tense and tur­bu­lent. He met her in 1883 when she was 18; she was a good sculp­tor and helped him in his com­mis­sions and posed for him. Sev­eral films have been made on the two fa­mous artists’ per­turbed af­fair. She left him in 1898, and later had a ner­vous break­down and was con­fined by her fam­ily to a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion un­til her death in 1943.

In 1864 Rodin sub­mit­ted to the Sa­lon de Paris his sculp­ture The Man with the Bro­ken Nose. It was a bust of the street porter of the neigh­bour­hood who had a flat, crooked nose. Also, the back of the head of the sculp­ture was miss­ing from a fall. Typ­i­cal of what Rodin did with many of his works, it was un­fin­ished. Pre­dictably, the judges re­fused it.

Not un­til 1880 did the French get in­ter­ested in Rodin’s work, and the min­istry of Fine Arts com­mis­sioned him a mon­u­men­tal

por­tal for a fu­ture mu­seum of dec­o­ra­tive art. He worked on The Gate of Hell for four decades, and it was never fin­ished and the mu­seum was never built. It de­picted scenes from In­ferno, the first part of Dante’s epic poem Di­vine com­edy. He made 186 fig­ures, many of which be­came fa­mous as in­de­pen­dent works, like The Thinker, The Kiss, The Three Shades, The Fall­ing Man or The Prodigal Son. This was the start of his renown, and of over­com­ing poverty. The state also gave him a free stu­dio to work in.

The city of Calais in North­ern France wanted to com­mem­o­rate a sub­ject whose pa­tri­otic theme kin­dled Rodin’s in­ter­est. His­tor­i­cally, dur­ing the Hundred Years’ War, King Ed­ward III be­sieged Calais and de­creed he would spare the peo­ple if six no­ta­bles came for­ward bare­footed, bare­headed and with ropes round their necks. When they ar­rived, the queen begged her hus­band to spare their lives. Rodin por­trayed fear and dis­tress on the men’s faces, which the com­mis­sion­ers did not ap­pre­ci­ate, as they ex­pected a heroic theme. Rodin was ready to give up the project rather than make the changes they wanted. They fi­nally ac­cepted it. He made sev­eral slightly dif­fer­ent copies, and in 1889 the first one was dis­played at a square in Calais. It is one of the best known and loved of his work.

An­other in­ter­na­tion­ally ad­mired sculp­ture is The Thinker. Cre­ated orig­i­nally for The Gate of Hell, its great­ness lies in its rough phys­i­cal­ity and its emo­tional ten­sion. Rodin said of his Thinker: “What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knit­ted brow, …but with ev­ery mus­cle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and grip­ping toes.”

For a mon­u­ment of the French novelist Honoré de Balzac, com­mis­sioned af­ter his death, Rodin had trou­ble de­cid­ing what to do with Balzac’s well-rounded body. Af­ter many stud­ies, he made a full-length nude wear­ing a robe (getting a replica from Balzac’s tailor). It was so badly re­ceived, that he de­cided to pay back the money and place it in his gar­den. In 1939, long af­ter his death, the mon­u­ment was cast in bronze and ex­posed pub­licly.

Busts were im­por­tant for the sculp­tor and gave him recognition and fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence. He made more than 56 busts be­tween 1877 and his death. Among the fa­mous peo­ple who posed for him were Ge­orge Bernard Shaw, Gus­tav Mahler and Ge­orge Cle­menceau. He would make his sub­ject in clay and cast it in plaster, bronze or mar­ble, a rea­son there are many copies of his work. He also painted around 7.000 draw­ings as well as oils and wa­ter­colours, chalk and char­coal.

Rodin’s in­com­plete works in­flu­enced the ab­stract move­ment of the 20th Cen­tury. He be­came a bea­con to later gen­er­a­tions; he was es­pe­cially loved and ap­pre­ci­ated in England, and on the day of his burial, a mass was given in his hon­our at West­min­ster Abbey in Lon­don.

Rodin in his stu­dio

“The Thinker” Plaster (1880)

Balzac Plaster (1897)

The Burghers of Calais (1889)

“The Cathe­dral” (1908)

Mask of the Man with the bro­ken nose (1864)

Mask of Camille Claudel (1898)

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