Rodin was an outstanding thinker even by the standards of other sculptors, believing that understanding human bodies was complex and required multiple perspectives for full comprehension.
So he often recycled compositions, altering or fragmenting figures in new ways or adding them into new contexts – producing an ever-evolving work.
1. The Gates of Hell
Rodin’s masterpiece The Gates of Hell stands as a landmark work from his career, modernizing canonical sources from Dante’s Divine Comedy in 14th century epic poem form. This sculpture takes its inspiration from this 14th century poem to depict Christian hell, purgatory and paradise.
The sculptor began work on this piece in 1880 and completed it 37 years later; though never displayed during his lifetime or shown publicly until after his death in plaster form. Today several bronze casts of this masterpiece can be found at various museums such as Philadelphia’s Rodin Museum or Ueno Park’s National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.
Like many of Rodin’s works, The Gates of Hell features a chaotic population of figures who seem to struggle against massed masses of material, representing anger, despair, fear, love and desire. Their writhing bodies suggest an array of emotions such as anger despair fear love desire while their poses and gestures recall Renaissance works such as Lorenzo Ghiberti’s 15th Century bronze doors for Florence Baptistery of St John – Lorenzo Ghiberti is best known for these works in Italy.
Medieval artisans would carve scenes of hell above church doors so that people would see them and be reminded to lead moral lives. Rodin was fascinated with this theme for almost thirty years, refining and adding figures to its tympanum several times over that period.
Rodin’s Gates of Hell are an astounding testament to his artistry and passion for depicting human bodies, capturing both power and beauty with marble. Although originally planned to display on the facade of Paris Decorative Arts Museum, this plan fell through and never found a home during Rodin’s lifetime.
2. The Thinker
Rodin is perhaps best known for The Thinker, his iconic sculpture depicting deep concentration. Initially part of The Gates of Hell composition over a doorway, over time it has evolved into its own standalone work and often interpreted to represent Dante thinking over The Divine Comedy poem.
As with many of Rodin’s sculptures, The Thinker is highly symbolic. For instance, his seated position symbolizes the strength of human thought while his curled hand resting under his chin symbolises study and meditation. Over time The Thinker has come to represent universal themes related to reflection and meditation as part of human culture and society.
The Thinker at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is one of around 28 monumental casts of Rodin’s figure and also exists in several study-size plaster versions. He formed part of his The Gates of Hell project; however, unlike most of its figures that existed at his lifetime.
The artist himself described this piece as an exploration of “the power of human thought”, an idea which became central to many of his later works and has been interpreted in numerous ways over time.
Rodin’s groundbreaking approach to sculpture challenged established formulas for public monuments. His free and spontaneous clay models often became finished works that expanded on what was possible within this medium, capturing extreme physical states that expressed emotional intensity as well as truths of human soul – work which resonates deeply with many people today.
3. The Woman with the Broken Nose
The Woman with a Broken Nose by Auguste Rodin evokes dramatic tension as its long arm extends in an imploring manner towards the sky. Rodin used this piece to represent nature and human interactions, with particular reference to animalism; furthermore he explored human anatomy by creating this figure’s complex surface and trying to model an intricate surface pattern on it.
Rodin was an adept draftsman and modeler, creating sketches of Greek antiques in the Louvre as well as master sculptors like Phidias and Michelangelo for use as models for his own sculpture. Later he would use these models as influences in his own work; for instance he worked for a decorator in Brussels where he created group statues based on these models for use by Phidias and Michelangelo’s models; this experience profoundly altered Rodin’s artistic approach as Rodin moved toward creating sculptures which stood out through movement and emotional energy instead.
At this point, Rodin also developed his sculptural technique. He employed free and spontaneous modeling of clay sculptures with assistants turning them into finished works using plaster casts, carving and foundry techniques – this way of working allowed Rodin to express the expressive force of his vision without the constraints imposed by academic tradition.
Rodin and Rose Beuret returned to France during the late 1870s and immediately began creating life-sized figures for private clients, such as The Burghers of Calais. These pieces challenged traditional understandings of sculpture by depicting muscular forms with tormented expressions that challenged traditional notions of what made up sculpture – these forms could often exist without arms or heads and showed an organic world where human forms existed for their own sake rather than simply representing an individual.
4. The Torso of a Woman
Francois-Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), born into a working-class family in Paris and educated as an independent artist by himself, became famous as an innovative, self-taught sculptor. While taught traditional sculpting techniques from an early age, despite not qualifying for admission into Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Instead, he supported himself by working as a decorative object craftsman and studio assistant before beginning his artistic career – often turning out pieces characterized by ruggedly realistically imperfect forms which became his signature style over time.
Rodin met Rose Beuret, a seamstress who later became his life partner, in the late 1860s and they went through an emotional courtship that left a profound impression upon many of his sculptures. They shared an unconventional relationship which had an immense effect on many of Rodin’s dramatic sculptures; when creating Torso of a Woman he explored its possibilities as an exercise in exploring movement and tension within figures in movement; also using plaster casts of his models to test new ideas.
Rodin began drawing inspiration from everyday encounters into his work, being particularly taken with the balance and dynamic stride of Cesar Pignatelli, an Italian peasant whose walking pose reminded Rodin of itinerant preacher John the Baptist.
Rodin’s sculptures are known for their rough, unfinished surfaces that express restlessness and corporeality. By moving away from academic sculpture’s idealized forms and abandoning polished, idealized forms altogether, he sought to capture modern life’s fleeting energy more effectively. Rodin’s emotional turmoil inspired a generation of sculptors including Picasso and Matisse; later works feature freer approaches to form, sources, materials that anticipated developments of 20th-century sculpture; for example with The Torso of a Woman, where Rodin placed bronze figures on top of a cast classical marble pedestal which further suggested an abrupt break with convention – further suggesting this break with convention by using unexpected materials in places not traditionally associated with classical marble pedestals – signalling something special was going on there.
5. The Man with the Broken Nose
Auguste Rodin created The Man with a Broken Nose from 1863-1864 in France as his inaugural piece as a professional artist, featuring Bibi, an individual who earned their living doing odd jobs around his neighbourhood. It became immensely popular and ultimately had an immense influence on all future works by Rodin.
Rodin’s studio was managed by skilled plaster casters, carvers and founders who transformed his free and spontaneous clay models into striking works that challenged traditional definitions of sculpture. While Rodin was greatly inspired by classic Greek works, he used modernist approaches in his work that also evolved over time – this continued evolution being evident even today in contemporary works like those by Rodin.
Rodin’s later sculptures can be explained by his interest in two highly charged literary sources, Dante’s Inferno and Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil. Furthermore, Rodin was not only an accomplished fine artist but also an adept draftsman whose drawings of female figures can often be as sexually suggestive as his sculptures.
Rodin was best known as a sculptor; while he occasionally painted and sketched, his primary medium of expression was sculpture. Few artists could match Rodin in terms of capturing the physical and intellectual force that animated human forms; his works restored ancient roles for sculpture – depicting emotions and characters of people – while opening up new possibilities in modern sculpture.
Rodin had an eventful and troubled personal life. He married twice and fathered an unrecognized son; close to Rose Beuret (mother of his only surviving child). However, despite his fame and talent he found it hard to make ends meet financially and often found himself broke.