The Greatest: Rodin

Rodin. The thinker and creator who is in an eternal search for ideal forms. He saw the beauty of nature in everything, both alive and inanimate. Rodin, the great sculptor, who became famous in maturity, by creating unique masterpieces – The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, The Burghers of Calais, the monument to Victor Hugo, and the very era of modern sculpture. In 2017, the director Jacques Doillon released a picture of the same name, Rodin – about the life, love, and career of the creator.


Rodin, a Film Animating the Sculptures

Central to the plot are scenes from Rodin’s most significant periods: from the first state commission, his meeting with Camille Claudel, and an eternity of loneliness, captured in the monument to Honoré de Balzac. Rodin (Vincent Lindon) works in his studio on the magnificent “The Gates of Hell”, a new entrance for the Museum of Decorative Arts. A bronze bas-relief represents “The Divine Comedy” by Dante. Together with Camille Claudel (Izïa Higelin), examining the role of the heroes that accompany the sculptures. Camilla already controls Rodin’s heart, beloved and talented, a natural beauty, just for Rodin, while he is a teacher and guide, a wise mentor for Camille. The creative stages of the sculptor are replaced by romantic impulses, which he conveys through his works. It is amazing how much Rodin is passionate about finding all that is beautiful in every creature: a small snail leaving a mark on the sand, or a tree trunk.



One of Rodin’s main aspirations is the animating of sculptures. He always seeks to recreate a real silhouette, even from bronze, but with an imitation of life. So for his “The Bronze Age”, he endures the critics’ rage. It is alleged that a Belgian soldier, or even a soldier’s corpse, has been the model. The ambiguous statue brings great fame to the sculptor, but also makes the world of art and sculpture divide into two camps: adherents of Rodin and his opponents. One way or another, he becomes the source of the most powerful currents of modern sculpture. A person without specialized education, an apprentice who has proved to the whole world that passion, love of work, in this case, clay and modeling, can break stereotypes. After all, love does not need diplomas. But only talent and an unbearable desire to create.


Life and Career

Rodin did not master Latin or math, reading was difficult for him, and his writing was filled with dozens of mistakes. Choosing a craft meant finding a lifebuoy for the boy — not to become a representative of the elite circles of officials, but let him cut paper and chisel stone. Rodin was going to enter The École Des Beaux-Arts, but was rejected twice. In the end, he decides to study on his own.

Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin

Astonishing are the naturalness and physiological accuracy with which Rodin reproduces the human body and its emotional states. Rodin uses sculptural texture and contrasting surface finishes as an additional, expressive technique. Leaving untreated elements of living stone in the sculptures, Rodin makes the figures seem to break out of the material, grasping the dynamics of birth and rebirth. Rodin is able to become an innovator in 19th-century art and the founder of contemporary art, with about 50 assistants working in his workshop. One makes plaster molds, one carves elements from marble. There are painters, foundry workers. The customer who comes to the studio floor can choose the right sculpture, then decide on the size – and the desired figure is finished in bronze. He was 40 when he first achieved fame.  He already had a wife, a 9-year-old son, and had profound understanding as a craftsman. Up to the age of 35, he worked as an apprentice and was not used to signing his sculptures.

The sculpture “Bronze Age” will bring mixed fame to Rodin. The sculptor is accused of using a mold from a living (or even worse, dead) model. A Belgian soldier agrees to appear naked in front of the inquiry, is forbidden to leave the country, then several letters making claims come from the authorities. The more absurd the scandal becomes, the more often Rodin’s name is heard and the more attention is attracted to his work.  In the end, there are more defenders and admirers than critics. However, the state does not buy the Bronze Age sculpture, so Rodin’s dreams of wealth remain dreams, and only dreams.


Emotive Sculpture

It is worth mentioning that at that time, most sculptures followed history, mythology, or religion. Creating something new meant going against the established system. And to add innovations to existing subjects was to despise the works of predecessors. Inspired by the work of Michelangelo, Rodin decides to continue and develop the style of “life-like, emotive sculpture”. The biased perception of society evolves over time, and Rodin secures the title of founder.

When nearly forty years old, Rodin receives his first state order – the world-famous portal, “The Gates of Hell”. Almost all the money received from the state as an advance, the sculptor spends on casts, and molding, paying for the work of sitters, who should have just been in the studio all day, moving from corner to corner in anticipation of an accurate pose and the command to “freeze”. Working on “The Gates of Hell”, Rodin makes hundreds of drawings, destroys dozens of sketches, and creates 200 more figures – some of which are set aside from the general ensemble and stand on their own – these are The Thinker, The Kiss, and Three Shadows.  Twenty-three years after receiving the order, Rodin will return the advance to the state and reserve the overwhelming, never-complete “The Gates of Hell” for himself.


Love: Camille Claudel

Camille Claudel becomes his student. The young girl has amazed her former teachers with her raw talent, and her family has been advised to move to Paris, to study sculpture with masters as talented as she. She and Rodin share similar fates. Camilla independently masters clay modeling, collects material in the woods, and has her brothers and sisters pose for sculptures. Often, her sculptures come from literature.

In Paris, Camilla attends a private art school. It was rare at that time to train girls and even teach them to draw naked bodies. She works for 11 hours a day in the studio, mastering the most complex details of the anatomical structure of the feet, hands, fingers. Her incredible talent grows with inspiration and love for Rodin. Rodin is a 40-year-old master who has more than 20 years of experience as an apprentice, and has also mastered sculpture on his own and most recently got the opportunity to operate his workshop, fill copyrighted orders, and educate students. Camilla and Rodin are on the same wavelength – inspired, talented, completely oblivious of the abyss of age and misunderstanding that separates them. But Camille will forever remain his mistress and student, as she is perceived to be by the world of art. Her life will achieve the summit of happiness and suffering. Rodin will remain her only lover, despite the short time they have together. And Camille will forever be remembered by the master as a source of vital energy, passion, love and real, feminine nature.

François Auguste René Rodin, who was a founder of modern, vibrant sculpture, alone created a new era, a world that continues changing.

Photos: Shutterstock

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