Auguste Rodin

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Rodin, Auguste

Rodin, Auguste (ōgüstˈ rōdăNˈ), 1840–1917, French sculptor, b. Paris. He began his art study at 14 in the Petite École and in the school of Antoine Barye, earning his living by working for an ornament maker. In 1863 he went to work for the architectural sculptor A. E. Carrier-Belleuse, who had a great influence on him. From 1870 to 1875 he continued in the same trade in Brussels and then briefly visited Italy. In the Salon of 1877 he exhibited a nude male figure, The Age of Bronze (1876; Paris). It was both extravagantly praised and condemned; his critics unjustly accused him of having made a cast from life. From the furor Rodin gained the active support and patronage of Turquet, undersecretary of fine arts. His Age of Bronze and St. John (1878) were purchased for the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris.

The government gave him a studio in Paris, where he worked the rest of his life with growing fame. From 1880 on Rodin worked intermittently on studies for a huge bronze door for the Musée des Arts décoratifs. It was inspired by Dante's Inferno and was to be called the Gate of Hell. He never finished it. Among the 186 figures intended for it are Adam and Eve (1881; Metropolitan Mus.), The Thinker (1879–1900), and La Belle Heaulmière (both: Paris). These, together with his group The Burghers of Calais (Calais), completed in 1894, are among his most famous creations.

Other ambitious works are his monuments to Balzac (1897; Paris) and to Victor Hugo (1909; Paris). Rodin is also known for his drawings, his many fine portrait busts, and his figures and groups in marble, such as Ugolino (1882), Danaïd (1885), The Kiss (1886), and The Hand of God (1897–98) in the Rodin Museum, Paris, and Pygmalion and Galatea and The Bather in the Metropolitan Museum, N.Y.C. He is best represented in the Rodin museums of Paris and Philadelphia, but fine examples of his work are included in many public collections throughout the world.

Rodin's work is generally considered the most important contribution to sculpture of his century, although some recent critical opinion has found his allegorical works pretentious. Realistic in many respects, it is nevertheless imbued with a profound, romantic poetry. The Gothic, the dance, and the works of Dante, Baudelaire, and Michelangelo were major sources of inspiration. Rodin considered his work completed when it expressed his idea, and as a result his sculpture is varied in technique; some is polished, some is gouged and scraped, and some seems scarcely to have emerged from the rough stone. He worked long over his more important works, returning to them again and again but without injuring their essential vitality.


See biographies by F. Grunfeld (1987) and R. Butler (1993); studies by R. M. Rilke (1902 and 1907, rev. tr. 2004), S. Story (rev. ed. 1966), A. E. Elsen (1963, repr. 1967), R. Descharnes and J. F. Chabrun (tr. 1967), I. Jainu (1967), Y. Taillandier (1967), C. Lampert (1987), K. Varnedoe (2001), and A. E. Eisen (2003).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Rodin, Auguste


Born Nov. 12, 1840, in Paris; died Nov. 17, 1917, in Meudon, near Paris. French sculptor. Son of a minor official.

Rodin studied in Paris at the School of Drawing and Mathematics from 1854 to 1857 and at the Museum of Natural History with A. L. Barye in 1864. From 1864 to 1871 he worked in the studio of A. Carrier-Belleuse, with whom he designed maquettes for small decorative sculptures, including some for the National Sèvres Works. Between 1871 and 1877 he worked on decorative sculpture for a number of buildings in Brussels. In 1875, Rodin visited Italy, where he was captivated by the art of Michelangelo, Donatello, and Ghiberti. In 1877 he began his study of French Gothic monuments.

Rodin’s earliest works, including the bust Man With a Broken Nose (1864), are distinguished by great craftsmanship. The statues The Age of Bronze (1877) and John the Baptist (1879) fully demonstrate the graphic and expressive boldness, the philosophical depth of conception, the dynamic rendering of complex movement, and the energetic modeling of form characteristic of all Rodin’s works. The Age of Bronze embodies mankind’s awakening and apprehensions of the future, and John the Baptist is imbued with the enthusiasm of prophecy.

In 1884, Rodin began his bronze Burghers of Calais (completed 1888, installed 1895) for the city of Calais. The sculpture depicts burghers of Calais offering their lives for the sake of their native city during a siege by the English king in the mid-14th century. The drama of the scene, the atmosphere of emotional conflict, and the heroes’ spiritual agony are expressed by the agitated, staccato rhythm of the sculpture’s composition, by the sharp contrasts between static and highly dynamic figures, and by the contrast between the overall massiveness of the sculpture and the expressiveness of pose and gesture. Rodin’s characterization of each burgher is simple yet profound.

From 1880 to the end of his life, Rodin worked on the huge high-relief composition The Gates of Hell, which symbolically represented the range of human passions. The Gates was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, motifs from ancient Greek and Roman mythology, biblical stories, and the poetry of F. Villon and of poets of Rodin’s lifetime. The individual themes of this composition were developed in independent pieces, such as La Belle Heaulmière (1885), The Kiss (1886), and The Thinker (1888). La Belle Heaulmière is noted for its gro-tesqueness, whereas the sculptural group The Kiss is imbued with subtle poetry. The Thinker exudes inner strength and spiritual greatness.

Rodin’s work of the mid-1880’s reflected with growing intensity an attraction to complicated symbolic images and to the revelation of diametrically opposed human emotions—from serene harmony and tender lyricism to total despair and a somber intensity of concentration. The artist’s technique also changed. His works acquired a deliberately sketchlike, unfinished quality. The play of light and shadow incorporated much more contrast, and the modeling of forms, sometimes fluid, became emphatically painterly. This technique allowed Rodin, one of the founders of impressionism in sculpture, to convey by means of a “spiritual outburst” the slow, at times tortuous, birth of form from elemental, amorphous matter.

Unlike the impressionist painters, Rodin always tended toward a metaphysical understanding of artistic creation and toward the portrayal of timeless, general human subjects. However, he always preserved a certain definition of form and gave special significance to texture as a means of sharpening his image. Nevertheless, a loss of power and massiveness is reflected in such works as the monuments to Hugo (marble, 1886–1900) and Balzac (bronze, 1893–97; installed 1939) in Paris and his model for The Tower of Labor (plaster-of-paris maquette).

In the 1880’s and 1890’s, Rodin sculptured a number of busts, such as those of A.-J. Dalou (1883) and H. Rochefort (1897), which are noted for an accurate revelation of the character and inner world of the subject. Also of particular artistic merit are Rodin’s sketches and etchings, which are dynamic and deliberate in execution.

Rodin’s art marks an epoch in the history of sculpture. Although it remained true to the traditions of romanticism, it unquestionably belonged to the realm of realism (particularly the psychologically profound portraits). Like impressionism and symbolism, Rodin’s work stimulated the creative seekings of such varied 20th-century sculptors as E. A. Bourdelle, A. Mayel, C. Despiau, and A. S. Golubkina—all of whom were pupils of Rodin.

Versions of all the sculptures mentioned in this article, executed in plaster of paris, bronze, and marble, are in the Rodin Museum in Paris and in many other museums throughout the world.


Ternovets, B. Roden. Leningrad, 1926.
Roden (collection of articles on Rodin’s work). Moscow, 1960. (Translated from German and French.)
Veis, D. Ogiust Roden. Moscow, 1969.
Goldscheider, G. Rodin [vols. 1–2]. Paris [1964].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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