The Auguste Rodin centenary at the Grand Palais

Published on 07.03.2017
The year 2017 marks a century since the passing of Auguste Rodin, considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern sculpture. The Grand Palais exhibition provides a fresh perspective on this protean artist, presenting his work alongside pieces by Brancusi and Picasso.
Rodin, masque de Camille Claudel
© Musée Rodin
Auguste Rodin, Masque de Camille Claudel et main gauche de Pierre de Wissant, vers 1895. Donation Rodin, 1916 © Musée Rodin

Over 200 works are on display at the Grand Palais to illustrate the wide-ranging influence of sculptor Auguste Rodin on his peers. The sculptor embraced the concept of “the accident” in his work, in addition to inventing the unfinished work, or partial figure. Numerous artists have paid tribute to his genius, from Bourdelle to Anselm Kiefer.

The young Rodin’s moment of revelation came at 14 years of age, when he discovered a book on Michelangelo. He soon started taking classes at the Imperial Design School in Paris, known as the “Petite École”, a specialist seat of learning for the arts. His artistic journey would take a sharp change of direction on the day he first tried his hand at modelling clay. “For the first time I saw clay; I felt as though I were ascending to heaven,” claimed the young sculptor. Encouraged at being awarded a first prize for his sculpture, Rodin sent an application to the Paris School of Fine Arts. However, he was to be refused entry to the institution on three separate occasions. On returning from a spell in Italy, his unfinished figures immediately created a buzz. From that moment on, his career would follow an extraordinary trajectory that would lead him to cross paths with the greatest artists, writers and intellectuals of the day, including Victor Hugo, Rainer Maria Rilke and Claude Monet.

“Beauty is everywhere. It is not that she is lacking to our eye, but our eyes that fail to perceive her,” professed Rodin, whose central interest was first and foremost in the movement of the body and its contortions, rather than purely in its representation. Among the sculptures on display at the Grand Palais is “The Thinker” (1904).

The name of Rodin is indelibly linked to that of fellow sculptor Camille Claudel. In 1884, a 43 year-old Auguste Rodin was seeking new assistants when he met the lady who was to become his muse. A young artist blessed with creative genius, Claudel would execute the most difficult parts of Rodin’s statues, such as the hands and feet of the characters on the Gates of Hell. The anniversary celebrations would simply not be complete without the presence of Claudel’s work.

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