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Auguste Rodin, The Cathedral, 1908

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Biography
AUGUSTE RODIN
Rodin, Auguste 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.

Used with permission. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2001 Columbia University Press