Heaven and earth: the duality in Rodin’s work

On 12 November 2015, we celebrate Auguste Rodin’s 175th birth anniversary, and what better way to honour him than talking about his work.

Master of nineteenth-century sculpture, Rodin’s work presents the Impressionist quality of accentuating the surface texture of the medium; and just as the rest of the Impressionists, Rodin’s work was often bluntly criticized. His sculptures departed from the traditional style modelled with beauty and realism, featuring instead a disheartened, unfinished look.

 

Study for Naked Balzac by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), c.1892 (plaster) / Musee Rodin, Meudon, France / Peter Willi / Bridgeman Images
Study for Naked Balzac by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), c.1892 (plaster) / Musee Rodin, Meudon, France / Peter Willi / Bridgeman Images
 The Burghers of Calais, by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) completed by 1888 (photo), / Victoria Tower Gardens, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

The Burghers of Calais, by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) completed by 1888 (photo), / Victoria Tower Gardens, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

Examples of this are Study for Naked Balzac and The Burghers of Calais; both sculptures caused a huge controversy due to Rodin’s unconventional way of representing heroes.

However, when the subject in Rodin’s work is love, the roughness of his style achieves a perfect balance. Inspired by mythology, legends or literature, the ways Rodin explored the topic were endless but there was always a constant: the contrast between the theme and the medium – smooth and rough at the same time, mystic and yet profoundly human. The sensuality of the flesh and the softly flowing forms from the lovers contrast with the roughly-hewn marble to which they are attached. An impression of raw power and primal thrust, yet the lovers barely touching.

 

Romeo and Juliet, 1905 (marble) (see 195199), Rodin, Auguste (1840-1917) / Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia / Bridgeman Images
Romeo and Juliet, 1905 (marble) (see 195199), Rodin, Auguste (1840-1917) / Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia / Bridgeman Images
Eternal Springtime, 1884 (marble), Rodin, Auguste (1840-1917) / Musee Rodin, Paris, France / Photo © Boltin Picture Library / Bridgeman Images
Eternal Springtime, 1884 (marble), Rodin, Auguste (1840-1917) / Musee Rodin, Paris, France / Photo © Boltin Picture Library / Bridgeman Images

 

In The Kiss, for instance, the man’s hand rests almost respectfully on his lover’s hip. The Eternal Idol portrays the lover in an adoring attitude, reflecting the utmost reverence.

 

The Kiss, 1886 (marble), Rodin, Auguste (1840-1917) / Musee Rodin, Paris, France / Bridgeman Images
The Kiss, 1886 (marble), Rodin, Auguste (1840-1917) / Musee Rodin, Paris, France / Bridgeman Images
Eternal Idol, 1893 (marble), Rodin, Auguste (1840-1917) / Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Art Museums, USA / Bridgeman Images
Eternal Idol, 1893 (marble), Rodin, Auguste (1840-1917) / Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Art Museums, USA / Bridgeman Images

Both passion and despair are evoked in Rodin’s work, where elegance meets audacity. Is this contrast that makes him the predecessor of modern sculpture and one of the masters of impressionism.

Image Licensing

View all images related to Rodin’s life and work in the Bridgeman archive

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