François Auguste René Rodin was born on 12 November 1840, in Paris. Rodin’s early artistic instruction was provided by the ‘Petit École’ (the École Impériale Spéciale de Dessin et de Mathématiques, Paris), a school for the decorative arts. In 1857, Rodin failed the examinations to enter the École des Beaux-Arts and would subsequently spend much of the next two decades earning a living as a craftsman and ornamental decorator; in 1864, he entered the studio of Alber-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, a successful ‘mass’ producer of decorative objects and objets d’art. Rodin followed Carrier-Belleuse to Brussels in 1871, where he continued to work on ornaments for various public commissions until he was dismissed. Whilst Rodin had intermittently produced busts and modelled figures during this period, he had yet to develop his own artistic vision – a trip to Italy in c. 1875-76, where he was exposed to the work of Donatello and Michelangelo, would provide much inspiration for years to come.
Rodin exhibited at the Paris Salon for the first time in 1877, presenting the plaster model of The Age of Bronze, c. 1876, to a storm of criticism; a bronze cast was later exhibited at the Salon in 1880. An indication of Rodin’s growing reputation came that same year, when the French government commissioned him to produce The Gates of Hell, a monumental portal covered in sculptural relief to adorn the entrance of the projected Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Although the commission was never realised in his lifetime, Rodin isolated the figures and motifs, enlarging and finishing them in the round to produce many of his most well-known individual sculptures, including The Thinker and The Kiss. These would sustain him financially for the rest of his life.
In 1883, Rodin met sculpture student Camille Claudel; the two formed a passionate but tempestuous romantic relationship in which they influenced each other artistically, lasting until 1893. Rodin’s next major commission came in 1885, when he won the competition set by the Municipal Council of Calais for a public monument with his design for The Burghers of Calais, completed c. 1889. Rodin had a solo exhibition at the Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, in 1889. Rodin continued to receive public commissions throughout the century, these included monuments to: Jules Bastien-Lepage (c. 1886); Claude Lorraine (c. 1889); Victor Hugo (c. 1891); Honoré de Balzac (c. 1891); President Sarmiento of Argentina (c. 1894). From 1900 onwards, Rodin received numerous commissions for portrait busts from the United States, Germany, Austria, England and France. He travelled to London in 1902 and 1907, and was so popular in London that he was commemorated with a solemn service at Westminster Abbey on the day of his burial. Rodin died on 17 November 1917, in Meudon.
The Musée Rodin was opened in 1919 at Hôtel Biron, where he had lived and worked since 1908, and holds the largest collection of the artist’s work in the world. Rodin’s work can also be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Neue Pinakothek, Munich; Kunstmuseum Basel; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Louvre, Paris; Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseilles; the Tate Collection, London.
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