City Lit Blog

Rodin: the father of modern sculpture

Story added 22nd Aug 2017

Musée Rodin in Paris

For historians, 1917 can be considered one of the most significant years of the 20th century. It was the year the USA officially declared war on Germany, a key turning point in the First World War. It was also the year of the Russian Revolution, with Vladimir Lenin’s rise to power ending over 300 years of Tsarist rule.

For sculpture enthusiasts, however, the year 1917 is significant for another reason: as the year the legendary Auguste Rodin sadly passed on – although not without leaving a significant legacy to the world.

Rodin's The Thinker

100 years on from his death, it’s hard to underplay Rodin’s impact on world sculpture through the last century. As with so many creative geniuses, the Frenchman wasn’t unanimously appreciated during his lifetime. In fact, throughout his artistic career, Rodin was considered something of a rebel. His work diverged from traditional sculptural norms, favouring realism and adding individual character in his work over the decorative, thematic pieces in vogue during his lifetime.

Rodin’s work was aesthetically unique in comparison to his contemporaries, eschewing themes from history, literature, religion, and myths and legends to forge an entirely new style of his own – a style that would lead him to being crowned the ‘father of modern sculpture’. His work was often uncompromising.  Rodin would not hesitate to capture his subjects as he found them, imperfections and all, and refused to change his unorthodox style for the era, despite persistent criticism from many of his peers.

Rodin's The Burghers of Calais

So what made his work distinctive? Many sculptors would argue lighting was central to Rodin’s creative design process. As the projection of character through sculpture was Rodin’s guiding principle, a huge part of his creative vision would centre around lighting, and how best to manipulate light to showcase the personality inherent to his work. In an age before electricity, Rodin’s works were traditionally placed in areas with changeable light, or internally where his bronzes could be captured by candle or gaslight.

Rodin was also a perfectionist. During the initial planning stage for his work, he obsessively revised his initial sketches for his designs until he was completely happy, capturing his subjects from multiple angles to develop a definitive vision for a proposed commission. Finally, he wasn’t afraid of collaboration, employing over 50 people to help hone his designs at the height of his popularity at the turn of the 20th century.

Rodin’s best known works include:

-          The Age of Bronze (1877)

-          The Burghers of Calais (1884–9)

-          The Gates of Hell (1917, completed after his death)

-          The Kiss (1889)

-          The Thinker  (1904)

So, on the 100th anniversary of his death this November, fans of sculpture should raise a glass (or perhaps that should be a chisel?) to a man who has allowed entire generations of sculpting students to express their artistic license and experiment with new forms of sculpture.

Art and sculpture courses at City Lit this autumn…