Auguste Rodin

Auguste Rodin

French Sculptor

Born: November 12, 1840 - Paris, France
Died: November 10, 1917 - Meudon, France
"To any artist, worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth."
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Auguste Rodin Signature
"To any artist, worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth."
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Auguste Rodin Signature
"It is the artist who is truthful and it is photography which lies, for in reality time does not stop, and if the artist succeeds in producing the impression of a movement which takes several moments for accomplishment, his work is certainly much less conventional than the scientific image, where time is abruptly suspended."
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Auguste Rodin Signature
"Every part of the human figure is expressive. And is not an artist always isolating, since in Nature nothing is isolated."
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Auguste Rodin Signature
"In front of the model, I work with the same desire to copy the truth as if I were making a portrait; I do not correct nature, I incorporate myself into her; she leads me. I can work only from a model. The sight of the human form fortifies and nourishes me."
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Auguste Rodin Signature

Summary of Auguste Rodin

François-Auguste-René Rodin's story recalls the archetypal struggle of the modern artist. He was born in obscurity and, despite showing early promise, rejected by the official academies. He spent years laboring as an ornamental sculptor before success and scandal set him on the road to international fame. By the time of his death, he was likened to Michelangelo. His reputation as the father of modern sculpture remains unchanged, and in recent years the wider exhibition of his many drawings has also elevated his reputation as a draughtsman. However, his many intimate - some have suggested exploitative - drawings of his models have altered the nature of the traditional respect paid to this eminent artist.


  • Rodin stripped away many of the narative references to classical myth that were still attached to academic sculpture in the late-19th century and placed a new stress on the dignity of simple human moments. The fame of works such as The Kiss (1884), The Thinker (1880), and The Age of Bronze (1876) has transformed such depictions into paragons of high art, yet until Rodin's age, such sculpture's importance and novelty was not appreciated. Instead of representing gods or muses, he sculpted lifelike figures in distinctly modern attitudes of love, thought, and proud physicality.
  • Rodin's achievement as a sculptor was to find a way to make the brute materiality of sculpture express the fleeting mobility of the modern individual. To achieve this, he abandoned the polished and idealized figures of academic sculpture and produced rougher, more unfinished surfaces, which better expressed restlessness, corporeality, and movement. While this often suggests psychological agitation, it also evokes the constant motion characteristic of life in modern times.
  • Rodin's work process often encouraged him to reuse compositions in different ways. Most famously, figures that appear in his The Gates of Hell were often rendered at later dates, created separately and at different scales. But Rodin would also represent the same figure multiple times in the same sculpture or fragment figures into individual body parts like hands or arms. All of these processes were encouraged by his very unclassical approach to composition, and they produced strange and jarring effects.

Biography of Auguste Rodin


Here we see Rodin as the revered master of sculpture, a standard that all future sculptors measured against.

Progression of Art

The Age of Bronze (1876)

The Age of Bronze

A young officer was the model for this sculpture, which provided the first great succès de scandale, or "success of a scandal," of Rodin's career. The composition and rough surface of the figure were unconventional by academic standards. The subject also remained obscure - the title only vaguely suggesting classical art - and prompted confusion among critics; rather than clothe his image of man in respected symbolism, Rodin had presented a common man, naked. But controversy ultimately centered on allegations that the piece was a direct cast from the body rather than a modeled sculpture. The allegations were a testament to Rodin's technical skills, though the suggestion that he had somehow cheated heartily offended the sculptor, who was able to disprove the claim with photographs of his model.

Bronze - Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Gates of Hell (1899)

The Gates of Hell

Rodin labored on this mammoth project for over twenty years. It was commissioned in 1880 as a set of doors for the planned Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, but the museum never came to be, and he never finished the sculpture to his satisfaction. It is believed that Rodin chose to draw on Dante's Inferno for the subject matter. It was a deliberate attempt to rival Lorenzo Ghiberti's famous bronze doors for the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral, the Gates of Paradise (1425-52), the competition for which is often said to have initiated the Renaissance. Rodin initially planned to split the composition into a series of panels, just as Ghiberti had done, but after looking at images of Michelangelo's Last Judgment (1534-41), he opted for a more fluid arrangement of figures. When the plans for the museum were cancelled, Rodin's urge to complete the sculpture waned, and work dragged on. He exhibited a plaster version of the sculpture at an exhibition at the Place de l'Alma in Paris in 1900, but it was not until 1925, eight years after his death, that two bronze casts were created.

Bronze - Rodin Museum

The Thinker (1880)

The Thinker

Although The Gates of Hell was never completed to Rodin's satisfaction in his own lifetime, his work on the project did inspire many other finished works, and The Thinker is the most famous example. Deriving from a figure at the top of the sculpture who gazes with melancholy over the hellish scenes below him, he represents Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy that inspired The Gates of Hell (1899). Highly influenced by Michelangelo, the figure also represents modern, secular man - strong in mind and body, but lonely and doubtful in the position he has created for himself as master of his own universe. Although the seated figure is deeply lost in thought, the dynamic pose gives him a sense of movement. At first glance, the pose appears natural, but in fact the man's right arm on his left knee is twisted in an exaggerated fashion. Over fifty casts were made of this sculpture, which are today scattered throughout the world, making it one of Rodin's most famous works. Rodin also chose The Thinker as his tombstone.

Bronze - Musée Rodin, Paris

The Kiss (c.1884)

The Kiss

Critics gave this sculpture the title The Kiss, but Rodin originally called it Paolo and Francesca, after the story in Dante's Divine Comedy about a young noblewoman who falls in love with her husband's brother. In the story, the couple is killed by the jealous husband, but Rodin focuses instead on their loving embrace. This erotic sculpture was made during the early years of Rodin's relationship with Camille Claudel. It was probably intended to figure in The Gates of Hell. It is not known why these figures were not ultimately included; they do not exhibit the same despair as other figures in the composition, and so Rodin may have concluded that they were ill-suited. Rodin believed in making his work as widely available as possible, and he produced numerous versions of his most popular works, ensuring his fame with future generations. Over 300 bronze copies of The Kiss had been produced by Rodin's death in 1917.

Marble - Victoria & Albert Museum

Burghers of Calais (1889)

Burghers of Calais

Rodin won a commission from the town of Calais to portray the group of heroic city leaders who sacrificed themselves in 1347 to save the town from a siege by the English King Edward III. Although earlier artists had focused on the oldest man, Rodin included all six of them. The figures are arranged all on one level, rejecting the "pyramid" composition typical of figure groups at the time. The men look downtrodden, but determined. They are dressed in rags, and their hands and feet are expressively enlarged. However, their awkward appearance did not suggest the heroic dimension that the town had envisioned, and the sculpture was accepted with some hesitation and compromise. Today, however, it remains well-loved as an emblem of civic sacrifice, with one version standing outside the Houses of Parliament in London.

Bronze - Installed in the Town of Calais

Balzac (1898)


Rodin received the commission to memorialize the great French novelist and poet in 1891. However, as with so many of Rodin's commissions, the work dragged on and on while Rodin struggled to settle on a composition. He spent years reading Balzac's poems, finding pictures of him and models who bore a resemblance to the heavy-set man. Finally, he placed the proud head on top of a body swathed in a huge, shapeless robe and made a mound-like protrusion at his crotch as a reference to his virility. Inevitably, the Société des Gens de Lettres, who had commissioned the sculpture, was displeased, and the cast was rejected. Only in 1930 were two bronze copies made of the piece, and in 1939 one was installed in Paris at the intersection of the boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse.

Bronze - Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Auguste Rodin
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Émile Zola
    Émile Zola
  • Octave Mirbeau
    Octave Mirbeau
Friends & Personal Connections
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Julia Brucker

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Auguste Rodin Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Julia Brucker
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 22 Jan 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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