Reflections of Impressionism in Auguste Rodin's Sculptures

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  • 0:06 Auguste Rodin
  • 0:40 Burghers of Calais
  • 2:00 Walking Man
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the works of sculptor Auguste Rodin and discover how impressionism influenced his philosophy about art and his actual sculptures. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Auguste Rodin

Look at this guy. I mean, just look at this guy. You know this guy is going to be awesome. This is Auguste Rodin. No, he's not a hipster. He's a French sculptor of the 19th century, one of the most famous in the world. I bet you've seen some of his work. Rodin's sculptures are noted for both their realism and sense of emotion. They are also noted for a sense of movement and unconventional staging, creating the sense that Rodin managed to somehow sketch a scene in bronze.

Auguste Rodin
Portrait of Rodin

Burghers of Calais

This is Auguste Rodin. And this is Auguste Rodin's Burghers of Calais, completed in 1889. It depicts a scene from French history. In 1347, King Edward III laid siege to the town of Calais but offered to spare the townspeople if six of the city's leaders would offer themselves to be executed. Six men volunteered and left to sacrifice themselves to save their town, only to be saved at the last minute by the Queen of England. This sculpture depicts the men as they are leaving Calais, assuming that their lives are about to end.

This is not a traditional sculpture. Rather than idealized heroes, the Burghers (or town leaders) look disheveled, frightened, and unsure. Yet this makes them feel human and somehow even more heroic in their willingness to die, despite their fear.

The Burghers of Calais
Picture of the Burghers of Calais, by Rodin

The dedication to capturing the reality of a moment was something shared by many artists of the late 19th century, including the styles Realism and Impressionism. While both of these movements tried to capture a single moment in art, Impressionism was more focused on the essence of a moment passing through time.

Look at the arrangement of these men. The figures look displaced, disorganized. It's supposed to feel as if Rodin simply captured a single moment in their journey: nothing special, just one simple moment.

Walking Man

This next one is Walking Man, originally a study in movement for another sculpture completed in 1905. Notice anything interesting about this? That's right-- the extremely realistic sense of movement, especially in the transition of weight from back leg to front. Ok, yeah, there's also no head or arms, but let's focus on the implied sense of movement.

Walking Man
Sculpture: Walking Man

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