Auguste Rodin1840 - 1917
Born: November 12, 1840, Paris, France
Died: November 17, 1917, Meudon, France
From an early age, Auguste Rodin pursued an artistic career, though his journey toward becoming "the only sculptor of the modern age on par with Michelangelo" was not an easy one. Born in a working-class district of Paris, Rodin was the son of a clerk with the police force. He was a promising student at the Petite Ecole, which he entered at age thirteen, taking first and second prizes in 1857 for a sculpture and a drawing, respectively. However, Rodin failed to gain admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in three separate attempts; following this setback, he spent about twenty years working for various jewelers, masons and craftsmen creating decorative objects and architectural embellishments simply to earn a living.
In the period of years between 1864 and 1875, Rodin studied and worked in Paris and Brussels with renowned sculptors Antoine Barye and Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. From Barye he learned to draw and model animals while attending the master's classes at the Musee de Histoire Naturelle. Carrier-Belleuse especially helped Rodin launch his professional career, as he joined with seven other leading French artists in early 1880 to petition the government for their official recognition of Rodin. Rodin would break ties with Carrier-Belleuse two years later and form a partnership with Antoine Van Rasbourg, but his former friend's influence is hard to deny; The French government was amenable to the artists' request, and quickly purchased Rodin's controversial Le Age deairain (The Age of Bronze), which had been anonymously exhibited at the 1877 Paris Salon. In August of 1880, government officials approached Rodin to create monumental bronze doors for a new decorative arts museum. The result of this commission was Rodin's now-famous Gates of Hell, which was never actually attached to the proposed museum, since plans for that institution were ultimately cancelled. (Rodin dedicated about thirty years to creating the Gates, but the work was never actually cast in bronze until 1925, eleven years after the artist's death).
Greatly influenced by the Romantic movement, with its emphasis on the celebration of the natural world, Rodin's bronzes were widely recognized and criticized in their own time for their high level of realism. He often modeled the human form, and he believed in each subject's spiritual dignity, which could be revealed by close scrutiny. Often compared to Michelangelo, Rodin had spent time traveling in Italy and studying that master's work along with that of Donatello and others. He also traveled through France to visit and study the great cathedrals, which he published a book about in 1914. Italian art, Gothic cathedrals and ancient Greece were his personal interests that most profoundly affected his work.