Sunday, December 6, 2015

Auguste Rodin

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Auguste Rodin
St_John c1880
cast bronze, life size
SF Legion of Honor Museum
 Form: Rodin's sculptures are often placed within the genre of impressionism not just because he is a contemporary of the painters labeled the impressionists.  Rodin purposefully left the surface of his sculptures rough and faceted instead of smoothing the surfaces.  Often the "skin" of his sculptures have the planes and surface shifts exaggerated so that they catch the light better and the shadows and reflecting planes are exaggerated.  Therefore, because of his exaggerated attention to light and shadow, Rodin's work is rather impressionistic.
These sculptures were made first out of clay and then this sculpture was made with thecire perdue or lost wax process.   The process is referred to as "lost wax" not because we have lost the process, but because the figure is originally sculpted from wax which is lost in the process.  The original is encased in clay.  Two drainage holes are placed in the clay and when the clay is heated, the wax runs out of the hole leaving a cavity.  Bronze is then poured into the cavity and when the bronze cools the clay mold is broken open revealing the bronze sculpture.  Since the bronze is a fairly soft metal, details can be etched and molded while the bronze is cool.
For large hollow sculptures the process is slightly different.  See this diagram.

Auguste Rodin
St. John the Baptist c1877-79
cast bronze, life size
SF Legion of Honor Museum
Form continued. After the sculptures have been cast they are then treated with chemicals such as ammonia or other salts that creates a hard dark to light green color called a patina.  
In addition to this, Rodin's work is about realism.  His work is rather illusionistic and on first glance how work seems accurate but on closer observation you may note that Rodin also tends to exaggerate and overemphasize individual elements in his sculpture.  For example, here the head's features are slightly too large as are the hands and feet.  Another exaggeration in this sculpture is the figures posture.   Critics wondered if the figure was walking or preaching and felt that the fact that both heals were placed firmly on the earth was awkward.
Iconography and Form combined: (According to

"Auguste Rodin's St. John the Baptist Preaching at once embodies a desire for naturalistic physical beauty and a powerful didactic purpose and presence. This freestanding statue is meant to be seen from all angles and it is important to note the continuity of gesture, proportion, and musculature as one moves around the sculpture. The artist's choice of bronze as a sculptural material is very dramatic and creates a sense of fluidity through the play of light and shadow that is produced by reflections from the hollows and protrusions of the robust and well-defined figure. A sense of visual balance and harmony is achieved by the smooth lines of the fully outstretched arm, the extended back foot, the gentle tilt of the head, and the subtly gesturing fingertip. There is the distinct presence of personality and wisdom in the weathered, yet determined face of St. John. In fact, Rodin's rendering of the human form was so convincing that it was thought that his plaster mold for the statue was made directly from his model for the statue."
Context:  (Text taken from ) "Auguste Rodin's decision to create the statue of St. John the Baptist Preaching suggests both a desire to choose a traditional Biblical subject and to create a figure of a more direct and serious tone and naturalism than was typical within the prevailing aesthetic ideals of the Third Republic. In addition, Rodin was inspired to create such a statue upon first sight of his model, an Abruzzi peasant by the name of Pignatelli, in whom he "saw" his St. John and described him as "a man of nature, a visionary, a believer, a forerunner come to announce one greater than himself."2 Furthermore, Rodin demonstrated his skill as a brilliant sculptor who was able to conceive and execute "an important public sculpture of a Biblical figure making a gesture that could be both rhetorical and symbolic." Albert E. Elsen further describes St. John's gestures as symbolic and indicative of the Messiah's descent from heaven." One of the most startling features of St John the Baptist Preaching is the almost unnatural sense of suspended movement. While the significance of this unusual cessation of movement can be traced to the subject and the expression of the figure, Rodin was very much aware of this incomplete movement which one might also associate with elements of dance: `Take my St. John, for example,' Rodin explained to Paul Gsell, `While he is represented with both feet on the ground, a snapshot of a model executing the same movement would probably show the back foot already raised and moving in the direction of the other one.'4
Full text at , 

Walking Man c1890-1900
Form: Bronze sculpture cast from a plaster mold. Again, left rough hewn and unpolished.  This sculpture and its details are much more roughly rendered and a bit more ambiguous than Rodin's St. John.  In fact this sculpture recycled the molds of the earlier sculpture as its basis.  Rodin reworked the original and removed the parts of the body that he felt were unnecessary.Iconography: Rodin meant for this sculpture to be an answer to the critics who had attacked his earlier sculpture of St. John.  Here Rodin was attempting to pare or boiled down his sculpture into the most essential elements needed to portray the movement of a walking man.  Therefore the head and the arms were not necessary to Rodin's vision.
Context:  Rodin also happened to be lazy and more interested in recycling figures when he could as opposed to making new ones. You will, as you spend more time looking at his sculptures, begin to notice this more and more often. It is also widely known that Rodin was having an affair with an underage apprentice girl by the name of Camille Claudel, and it is thought that it was she who actually did most of Rodin's work for him while he took credit. One must assume he was a scoundrel for exploiting the affections of a lovesick young girl, but it must be remembered that it could only be intrinsic in someone who greatly admired the poet Balzac.
According to
The result of the transformation of St. John the Baptist was The Walking Man, a figure, or partial figure, executed in a variety of sizes. Rodin had kept studies related to St. John the Baptist, made in 1877-78, as parts rather than as a complete figure. He reassembled the torso and legs in 1898 but purposefully did not include the arms or head. This elimination of detail and finish emphasized his primary inspiration for the figure, a man who walks. In one version Rodin enlarged The Walking Man to approximately twice its original height; in another he reduced the figure to approximately half its original height. When cast in bronze or plaster, The Walking Man retained all accidents, blemishes, and unfinished areas of the clay. Rodin emphasized that  The Walking Man was a record of making-and unmaking-sculpture, not merely a technical realization of an idea worked out in sculpted human forms. At its largest scale, The Walking Man is the grandest statement of  the aesthetic of the fragment that Rodin brought into the twentieth century. Torso (Study for "The Walking Man") is equally dramatic and carries the artist’s ideas of the process of making and subtracting from a figure to their ultimate conclusion. 

Form: Lifesize (or a bit bigger than) bronze sculpture. Unpolished and cast from plaster.Iconography: "This monumental work commemorates an incident in the Hundred Years War between the English and the French. In 1347, the city of Calais was besieged by the English, led by King Edward III. Edward demanded the surrender of the city. To stop any further loss of life, the oldest Burgher, Eustache de Saint Pierre, led a group of six of Calais' leading citizens to the English. However, thanks to the intercession of Edward's wife, Phillippa, the lives of all six Burghers were spared. After submitting the moquette, Rodin was awarded the commission to complete the monument. The original design shows the work mounted on a pedestal which was usual for heroic monuments at the time. However, Rodin quickly abandoned this type of monumental presentation in favour of a more realistic placement of the Burghers at ground level, with space between each figure. In this way, Rodin pioneered a new monumental form which was psychologically realistic in its concept and presentation. As he is reported to have said to his friend and biographer, Paul Gsell,  "I have not shown them grouped in a triumphant apotheosis, such glorification of their heroism would not have corresponded to anything real. On the contrary, I have, as it were, threaded them one behind the other, because in the indecision of the last inner combat which ensues between their cause and their fear of dying, each of them is isolated in front of their conscience." (
The people of Calais really did not like this work, at all. It did not show the Burghers as strong or heroic, and seemed to rub in the fact that they lost the war and were 'spared' instead of victorious. It also did not conform to what the people felt a statue of heroes should look like, the people were way too lifelike and miserable looking, and most important, were not on a pedestal. They were not given god-like, hero status. People, in general, do not like their heroes to be dirty, beaten down and miserable. they want martyrs that represent an ethereal, otherworldly glow and strength. The people of Calais, instead, deemed this work vulgar and offensive.
Context: Rodin was interested in reality, he was determined to create things and people as they were. He was not interested in changing his work to conform to what others wanted. according to, 'Unlike traditional monuments, which showed heroes striding forward proudly, Rodin depicted the mens' profound anguish at leaving their homes and families. He distorted the figures to express emotional trauma: the enlarged hands and feet emphasize their melancholy gestures and faltering steps, the tautened muscles convey a sense of physical stress, and the deeply sunken eyes and furrowed brows express heart-rending torment.  The novel idea that heroic deeds are performed at great sacrifice by average people infuriated the Calais authorities, who reluctantly accepted the monument in 1895 but refused to place it in front of the town hall until 1925. Despite this late acceptance, Rodin's vision set a precedent for later commemorations of the efforts of ordinary soldiers, such as Felix de Weldon's epic "Iwo Jima Memorial" (1954) and Maya Lin's contemplative "Vietnam Veterans Memorial" (1982) in Washington, D.C."

Rodin, Gates of Hell.
Form: Bronze doorway. Made with many individual, smaller works done by Rodin, but was never able to be placed in the building for which it was made, because it never got built!Iconography: Rodin worked on this piece for over twenty years. If you look at it closely, you can see some of Rodin's famous sculptures inside. The Thinker, and The Kiss. At the tope of the piece is supposed to be the three graces, and if you observe it up close, you realize it is merely the same figure cast three times and positioned to appear as though it was three different pieces. It would not seem that this saved Rodin any time as far as this piece was concerned, because it still took an inordinately long time to complete.
Context: This work is equivalent to Ghiberti's 'Gates of Paradise'. Interestingly, Rodin was never able to see it in Bronze during his lifetime. "In 1880, Auguste Rodin began the creation of a set of bronze doors for a proposed museum in Paris. The museum was never built, but The Gates of Hell became Rodin's most ambitious endeavor, taking over twenty years to complete. During Rodin's lifetime, The Gates was exhibited only once, in plaster. In 1977, Rodin's intention of casting the plaster in bronze was fulfilled when American art collector and financier B. Gerald Cantor and his wife, Iris, commissioned a casting of the  monumental work using the traditional and painstaking lost-wax process. When finished it stood nearly 21 feet high and had taken more than three years to complete. This cast of The Gates of Hell was the first time in more than a century that such a large-scale lost wax bronze pouring had been attempted." ( n, pl pa.ti.nas or pa.ti.nae [It, fr. L, shallow dish--more at paten] (1748) 1 a: a usu. green film formed naturally on copper and bronze by long exposure or artificially (as by acids) and often valued aesthetically for its color b: a surface appearance of something grown beautiful esp. with age or use 2: an appearance or aura that is derived from association, habit, or established character 3: a superficial covering or exterior