from The New Book of Knowledge®
François Auguste René Rodin—the greatest of French sculptors--was born in Paris on November 12, 1840. At the age of 14 he began taking drawing lessons, and in 1857 he tried to enroll in the École des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts). The admissions director of the school thought that Rodin's work was crude, and he rejected the young artist.
Rodin then took odd jobs making plaster ornaments and casting other sculptors' works. His skill increased, and he was given the opportunity to carve figures on buildings.
By 1875, Rodin had not yet worked on his own. He borrowed money from a friend and went to Italy. The sculpture of the great Italian masters, especially Michelangelo, stirred Rodin. When he returned home, he began to work independently, and the influence of Michelangelo touched all of Rodin's sculpture.
Rodin's first life-size statue was The Age of Bronze, a male nude figure. Using a technique new to sculpture, Rodin modeled the surface of the figure with many small, flat areas. Each of these planes acts as a mirror, catching and reflecting light. As the viewer walks around the figure, the light shifts, and the surface appears to be real skin.
The Age of Bronze was first shown in an exhibition in Paris in 1877. Visiting critics were so startled by the lifelike effect of the statue that they accused Rodin of having made a mold of a living person. Although this accusation was ridiculous, the sculpture was not widely admired until 1884, when it was shown in London.
Rodin soon began to win recognition because a great many people disagreed with the critics. In 1880 he was commissioned to make a bronze door for the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. The door, called The Gate of Hell, was never cast during his lifetime. But some of Rodin's later works—The Thinker, for example—were based on figures first planned for the door.
Rodin constantly experimented with new techniques and new ideas. He created sculptures of expressive hands alone. Several times Rodin carved part of a body out of a block of stone, leaving much of the original block uncut and unpolished. He was also a portrait sculptor who made busts of some of the most important people of his time. Many young artists were inspired by Rodin to take up sculpture, a long-neglected art form.
In 1916, Rodin gave all his work to the people of France. On November 17, 1917, he died. He was buried near his home at Meudon (near Paris), with The Thinker as the headstone on his grave. The Rodin Museum in Paris, which houses much of his work, was built in his honor.
Reviewed by Joseph Rishel, Jr.
Philadelphia Museum of Art