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Auguste Rodin: Biography, Sculptures & Artwork

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

An artist with a controversial view on sculpture, as well as a controversial personal life, Auguste Rodin began life as a sculptor seeking acceptance and died a revolutionary in the field.

Biography

Auguste Rodin was born in 1840 in Paris. Born to a rather poor family, Rodin was self-educated throughout his childhood, only formally studying art as a teenager. Despite his best attempts, he was rejected three times from the Ecole des Beaux Arts, the finest art program in France. Because of this, Rodin spent much of his early career creating trinkets and ornaments instead of focusing on more serious art.

While working as a craftsman, Rodin met Rose Beuret, the woman who he would be romantically linked with for the rest of his life. The two started living together, causing much aggravation for both his mother as well as Rose's, as well as working as an assistant to Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, who would be a patron of Rodin's on and off for much of his career. As a result of his work with Carrier-Belleuse, Rodin was able to travel to Italy. There, he saw the works of the Renaissance masters, and saw how his work could evolve.

Upon returning to Paris, he immediately began to submit bids for a variety of public projects, inspired by what he saw in Italy. All of these were squarely rejected as too avant garde until he met Edmund Turquet, a government official tasked with public art. The connection proved to be of great value to Rodin, and his work progressed greatly.

With the new work came a new need for models, and Rodin quickly began a relationship that can best be described as more than professional with an 18 year old model named Camille Claudel. The two had a passionate and rocky relationship, all while Rodin conducted a double life with his long-time partner Rose at home. Ultimately, the relationship collapsed, with Claudel spending much of her remaining life in a mental institution. This by no means was the end of Rodin's double life. In 1910 he attempted to seduce American dancer Isadora Duncan, a woman half his age.

As his acclaim grew, Rodin traveled throughout the United Kingdom and the United States, helping spread the word of his work. In 1917 he ultimately married Rose, who promptly died two weeks later in February. For much of the remainder of the year Rodin was ill, before ultimately dying in November.

Artwork

Despite the fact that Rodin did not set out to change art, much of his work has been viewed as revolutionary. Unlike his contemporaries, he sculpted to show the human form in a moment, not as some great allegorical or mythological idea. While this led many to reject Rodin's work early in his career, it led to its increased popularity later.

Method

Rodin principally worked with clay when presented with a model, then casted in metal or carved in marble the finished project later. This means that not only do his sculptures show a certain organic nature from the fact that they were originally conceived in clay, but also that casts were able to create multiple copies of the same work.

The Gates of Hell

Rodin's breakthrough work was The Gates of Hell, despite the fact that it was never displayed as originally intended. This was the piece that Turquet originally commissioned from the artist as a door for the planned Decorative Arts Museum. The museum was never built, but that did not stop Rodin from periodically working on the project from 1880 until his death.

The Gates of Hell
Gates of Hell

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