Auguste Rodin

Dates1840 - 1917
RolesArtist, Author, Designer, Sculptor
BornParis, France
DiedMeudon, France

Few sculptors have been more mythologized in their own time than Auguste Rodin. His most iconic works, such as The Thinker, The Kiss, and the Burghers of Calais are well known through multiple versions and numerous reproductions. At the same time, Rodin was an extremely gifted and prolific draftsman. Some of his drawings relate to his sculpture, while others are independent of it. The drawings in the latter category--mostly depictions of architecture or of the female body--may seem surprising at first, because they don't necessarily reflect the sculptor's sensibility for three-dimensional form.

Rodin was born into a poor family in Paris in 1840. At 13, he enrolled at The Petite École, an applied-arts version of The École des Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts). There, Rodin developed an ability to work in diverse styles, to draw from memory, and to render the human body in motion. At age 17, he applied to the more prestigious Academy but failed the entrance exam three times. Perhaps for that reason, Rodin detested "academic" art, favoring a more direct approach to the depiction of nature. Initially he earned a living designing and carving decorative stonework, most notably under the sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. In 1871, Rodin moved to Brussels with Carrier-Belleuse in order to design public monuments. After visiting Italy in 1876 and finding inspiration in the sculptures he saw there, he gradually developed his own style. By 1877, Rodin had returned to Paris. The French government awarded him a commission to design a grand entrance for a planned museum of decorative arts. That project, known as the Gates of Hell, became Rodin's masterpiece. The museum was never built, however, and the monumental work remained unfinished at his death.

Rodin's best-known sculptures were made in the 1880s, often stirring controversy for their bold depictions of nudity and sexual overtones. Rodin's portraits of French heroes Victor Hugo and Balzac were also considered avant-garde. Yet his style gradually became more widely accepted. An exhibition of his art, which he organized in Paris during the Universal Exposition of 1900, contributed to the establishment of his international reputation. After securing a sizeable estate in Meudon from the government (now a museum dedicated to the artist) Rodin died in 1917.