- Auguste Rodin
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Auguste Rodin

"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely."

There is some feeling amongst those in the arts that artists are born, rather than made, giving credence to the belief in an "artistic gene" or "creative predisposition." The Calvinists might call it predestination. The Greeks also had a word for it--fate. In 1854, a fourteen-year-old French boy enrolled in the Petite Ecole, which was a Paris training school in the decorative arts--everything from decorating china to painting silk. He wanted to be an artist. When he graduated, he applied to the renowned Ecole des Beaux-arts. He was rejected. He applied again a year later and was again rejected. Thinking the third time to be the charm, he tried yet again but with the same results. Disheartened, he began to work as a studio helper doing decorative details on the work of a Paris sculptor. He never did get to go to college and study art, but he was an artist, with or without formal training. His name was Auguste Rodin.

It took him another fourteen years, but by the early 1870s, he'd saved enough money for a trip to Italy where he fell under the spell of Michelangelo. After his return, he crafted his first masterpiece, The Age of Bronze. It was accepted into the 1877 Paris Salon show. It didn't win an award, but gained him a great degree of exposure and the backhanded compliment of a controversial accusation of having utilised plaster casts of a live model in creating his life-size bronze sculpture of a nude male figure. Critics found it difficult to accept the fact that a virtually self-taught sculptor such as Rodin could craft such exacting replicas of the human anatomy by any other means. It was a plight that was to follow him during much of his career.

For the next ten years, Rodin worked on figures composing a monumental set of bronze doors for the museum of decorative arts then under construction in Paris. The massive grouping was called the--The Gates of Hell. And inasmuch as the commission was never completed, Rodin no doubt considered the work aptly named. From it though, came a number of individual figures, the most famous of which was his trademark The Thinker. By 1880, at least six had been cast. In 1886, he put to rest once and for all any doubt he might be guilty of using plaster casts. His immortal The Kiss was cut from pristine white marble; and in its exquisite, erotic beauty, set Rodin on the same plane as his much idolised Michelangelo and the Baroque sculptor, Gianlorenzo Bernini, as master of the carved human figure. Just a year before his death in 1917, Rodin donated his entire art collection to the French government. Except for a few public monuments located elsewhere (such as the Burghers of Calais), the life's work of this born artist, including bronze portraits of famous literary figures such as Victor Hugo and George Bernard Shaw, can be seen today at the Musée Rodin in Paris.

contributed by Lane, Jim

20 March 1999

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