by Antoinette Le Normand-Romain


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Essential for every art lover—the definitive new book on Rodin's life and work. 

With more than 350 pictures, many never before seen, Rodin reveals, in great beauty and detail, the genius of the man known as the father of modern sculpture. The stories of Rodin's sculptures, well known for their sense of fluidity and movement, are told through each stage of development from paster casts to the glorious end result.

A world-renowned expert in Rodin’s work and a former curator at the Musée Rodin, Antoinette Le Normand-Romain enjoyed unprecedented access to Rodin’s archives and the museum’s collection in preparing this absorbing new study of the artist's life and works. She details the evolution of Rodin’s artistic vision: from the frustration of his early career—he was denied entrance to the École des Beaux Arts three times—to his first critical triumph with The Burghers of Calais to the twenty years he spent working on The Gates of Hell. Rodin also includes reproductions of the artist's numerous sketches, emphasizing his ability to capture human movement in two or three strokes of the pen and translate his sketches into final pieces that highlight the unique character of his subjects through their physicality.

This new perspective on Rodin’s oeuvre is accompanied by photographs that capture the astonishing details of his works, often in full- and double-page spreads. The photography undertaken for the book showcases the well known—like The Kiss and The Thinker—and little seen treasures, including many of the artist's plaster models and studies. Images of works in different stages of composition, and of the same work in different versions, provide an intimate look at Rodin's artistic process. With these splendid illustrations accompanying Le Normand-Romain’s insightful text, Rodin is the new authority on one of the world's greatest artists.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780789212078
Publisher: Abbeville Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/30/2014
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 13.00(w) x 11.40(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Antoinette Le Normand-Romain has been Director General of the National Institute of the History of Art in Paris since 2006. She specializes in French sculpture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including the work of Rodin and his partner Camille Claudel. Le Normand-Romain was a sculpture curator at the Musée d'Orsay and for twelve years at the Musée Rodin, where she undertook a new catalog of the collection.

Read an Excerpt


By Antoinette Le Normand-Romain

Abbeville Press

Copyright © 2014 Antoinette Le Normand-Romain
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7892-1207-8


“Auguste Rodin was thoroughly Parisian—everyday, poor Parisian.” The son of a minor official in the Paris police department, he was born on November 12, 1840, on the rue de l’Arbalete in Paris, and spent his early childhood near the Val-de-Grace hospital before the family moved to the rue des Fosses-Saint-Jacques near the Pantheon in the early 1850s. He spent three years in Beauvais at a boarding school directed by one of his father’s brothers under the aegis of the Freres des Ecoles Chretiennes. However, his grades were mediocre: The boy was interested only in drawing, and in 1854 he entered the Ecole Imperiale Speciale de Dessin et de Mathematiques, founded in 1776 in order to train boys for a career in the decorative arts. Its teachings were based on nature study and memory training. The institution was called the “Petite Ecole” to distinguish it from the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts, from whose ranks the winners of the Prix de Rome were chose each year.

During the three years he spent at the Petite Ecole, Rodin briefly came into contact with the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, who was a teaching assistant there in the winter of 1856-57, and met Jules Dalou and Alphonse Legros, who would be among his closest friends for the next fifteen years. Evenings, he attended drawing classes at the Gobelins Manufactory of Tapestry, working from the live model, while in his spare time he frequented the Louvre and the Bibliotheque Nationale, where since 1833 there had been a public reading room, which he was able to use despite his young age. Above all, he discovered sculpture: “I attended classes in drawing from plaster casts. Students were modeling after antique statues. For the first time I saw clay; I felt as though I were ascending to heaven.”

Three years in a row, from 1857 to 1859, he failed to gain admittance to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, but as Dalou rightly said, “Rodin was lucky not to have entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts!” By allowing him to avoid the neoclassical doctrine that still exerted a strong influence on the school at the beginning of the Second Empire, the rejection undoubtedly enabled Rodin to approach sculpture with complete freedom of mind. But the young man’s disappointment was nevertheless considerable, as can be gleaned from a letter that his father sent him at the time: “What I fear in your case is that you are becoming something of a pushover, because you let yourself become discouraged, and that you must never do; on the contrary, it is necessary to be energetic, to sweep away all signs of slackness or effeminacy…One says to oneself, I want it and by my perseverance I can have it…Think about words such as ‘energy,’ ‘will,’ ‘determination.” Then you will be victorious.”

While working on decorative sculpture projects to earn a living, at a time when Paris resembled a huge construction site following the major development and modernization program launched by Napoleon III and Georges-Eugene Haussmann, prefect of the Seine Department, Rodin continued to practice his drawing, at the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle, in the company of the sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye’s son. “The great Barye would come to see us. He would look at what we had done and leave, usually without saying anything; all the same, he is the one I learned most from.” Following his sister Maria’s brief period in a convent and her death in December 1862, Rodin also entered a religious order during these years of apprenticeship. During the few months that he spent with the Peres du Saint-Sacrement at the beginning of 1863, he carved a portrait of Father Pierre-Julien Eymard (plate 18), the order’s founder (now Saint Peter Julian Eymard), whose missionary zeal rapidly helped the order to become established. Presented at a banquet at the Galerie Martinet in 1864, this bust was Rodin’s first work to be shown in public.


It could be said that in 1864 Rodin truly entered adulthood. To begin with, he met Rose Beuret (plates 19, 20), a young seamstress from Champagne, who gave birth to his son, Auguste, in January 1866. (The boy was mentally unstable and remained a shadowy figure throughout her life, and even though his mother was known as “Mme Rodin” among the couple’s entourage, the artist did not marry her until January 1917, a few days before her death.) Furthermore, for the first time Rodin had a studio. Situated in a stable on the rue de la Reine Blanche, in the Saint-Marcel suburb, it had no heating, and his first large figure, a bacchante for which Beuret had posed, broke, while the portrait of a certain Bibi froze, as a result of which the back of the head, which as still being modeled in clay, was lost. Doubtless encouraged by the success of Jean-Louis Brian’s Mercury (plate 332) at the Salon of 1864—which he described as “one of the finest things in the world,” even though one of its arms was missing—Rodin thought he could exhibit the Bibi mask, which he had salvaged, as it was. But official institutions were still not prepared to accept an incomplete work, unless it enjoyed the prestige that Brian’s death had conferred on his Mercury, for the artist had given up his life to save his figure by depriving himself of his only blanket to protect it from the cold. The mask was thus rejected by the Salon jury. Rodin was nevertheless very attached to this work (see plate 35), and in this his future personality can already be glimpsed: “That mask,” he told American sculptor Truman Howe Bartlett, “determined all my future work. It is the first good piece of modeling I ever did.” He treasured it.

The fall of the Second Empire, owing to France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, brought this period to a close. Made a corporal in the National Guard in 1870, Rodin was demobilized in February 1871, and went to Brussels, where he had been invited the previous autumn to take part in work on the Bourse de Commerce. There he reencountered Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, whose studio he had entered in 1863. The young sculptor admired Carrier-Belleuse, a prominent artist, who had “something of the beautiful blood of the eighteenth century in him; something of Clodion; his sketches were admirable; in execution they became colder, but the artist had true merit.” Rose Beuret joined Rodin in Brussels, and they spent six years together in Belgium, a period that he would describe a decade later as the “most beautiful and happy days of our lives.” Initially, while still working on various monumental projects, Rodin continued to model elegant groups for Carrier-Belleuse, which the master signed and sold under his name. But their association did not last long. Much later, in 1907, Rodin spoke of the terra-cottas that he created “at the time when I was working for Carrier-Belleuse. He got us to make them, and he sold them to the public under his name. That led me to make some under my own name as well, but it did not work, which proves that it’s the name that makes the sale.” Left to his own devices, Rodin, who reproached his master for seeking to please an uncultured, often vulgar clientele, was happy to get back to making smaller, simpler figures: This probably explains the apparent regression that can be observed between the Young Woman in a Floral Hat (plate 21), most likely done in the second half of the 1860s, which displays great virtuosity, and the earliest works executed in Belgium. Nevertheless, in late 1871 Rodin began exhibiting decorative busts (plate 22) and small groups, which were now signed, in Brussels, Ghent, Liege, London, and even Philadelphia in 1876. They were favorably received, which alleviated some of his financial worries and enabled him to ask his friend Leon Fourquet, whom he had known at the Petite Ecole, to make a marble version of The Man with the Broken Nose (plate 186), which he had developed into a bust from the Bibi mask. The work was accepted by the Salon of 1875, the back of the head having been completed and the hair, with locks held in place by a band, reworked. The bust, a remarkably realistic study of a face, was thus in keeping with the tradition of the portraits of ancient philosophers, which ensured that it would appeal to the Salon jury.


Excerpted from Rodin by Antoinette Le Normand-Romain. Copyright © 2014 Antoinette Le Normand-Romain. Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Rodin before Rodin 26
Childhood and Training 27
Early Career 28

I. A Clever Strategy 32
The Quest for Official Recognition 35
England and Belgium 45
Producing a Portrait of a Famous Man 50
In Paris: First Dealers, First Collectors 57
A New Social Status 60

II. The Gates of Hell and The Burghers of Calais 72
“These Places of Labor…” 74
The Gates of Hell: A Wall and a Crowd 79
The “Secrets” of Michelangelo… 95
The Burghers of Calais 111
Finishing The Gates for the Exposition Universelle of 1889 117
The Monet-Rodin Exhibition: Choosing The Burghers 120

III. Rodin in 1889 124
A Name That “Grows by the Day” 126
Ugolino and the World of Dante 128
Interweaving Sources: The Kiss 133
The Expression of the Body 137
Learning from the Masters 140
Close to Nature 142
New Modes of Creation 146
Assembling: I Am Beautiful 149
Increasing: The Three Shades 153
First Partial Figures 156

IV. Victor Hugo and Balzac: The Invention of a New Monumentality 158
Bastien-Lepage and Claude Lorrain: First Forms of Renewal 162
Victor Hugo, First Project: Rejected 167
Victor Hugo Seated, Victor Hugo Standing, and Balzac: Three Parallel Projects 1891-95 168
The Large Models, 1894-98 175
Seeking out the Essential 186
The Monuments: Belated Recognition 187

V. Plasters and Marbles 190
Building an International Reputation 192
Desire for Marble, Rejection of Carving 195
Plaster, the Preferred Means of Expression 196
From Plaster to Marble: Rodin and His Assistants 215
Symbolist Marbles 219
Informal Series 229

VI. Rodin and Modernity: The Turning Point, 1895-1900 240
From The Shade to Meditation: The Principle of Nonverbal Communication 246
The Battle with Sculpture 253
The Gates of Hell in 1900: Escaping Limits 256
A Passion for Drawing: “The Pursuit of Nature” 260
Rodin’s Working Method 267
“Art Is a Form of Love” 270
Drawing and Sculpture 280

VII. Drifting Toward Symbolism in the Portrait 290
Theory of the Portrait: “The Soul Is the Great Statuary” 293
Camilles 293
Minervas 309
The Charm of Society Commissions 315
Symbols of the Symbolic 328

VIII. Antiquity and Nature: Timeless Beauty 336
An Artist at the Height of His Fame 339
Collections and Collectors 340
Rodin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art 344
A Passion for Antiquity 347
The Walking Man: Gesture and Movement 348
Partial Figures, Pure Beauty 352
“Tumultuous Plasters…Survivors of a Great Cataclysm” 368
Time of the Cathedrals 370
Cambodian Women and Dance Movements: “Shapeshifting in a Genre Varying Between Greek and Japanese 380
The Antique and Nature: The Same Mystery 385

Conclusion: Rodin’s Fame 386
The Final Years 387
The Donation 387
After 1917: The Musee Rodin’s Policy 388
Polemic in the United States 391
Repercussions 392

Chronology 397
Notes 402
Bibliography 415
Index of Names of People 419
Index of Works 425
Photographic Credits 429
Acknowledgements 431

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