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Auguste Rodin

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Auguste Rodin was born in 1840 and died in 1917, a year before the end of World War I. He was one of the most illustrious artists of his time, and in the eyes of posterity he remains, surely, the greatest name in Western Sculpture since Michelangelo.

His style was both classic and romantic, and to his contemporaries it was also revolutionary, for although Rodin followed routine closely, he presented it exactly as he saw and experienced it, and refused to be bound by the artistic conventions of his day.

Unlike his contemporary sculptors of the 1870's and 1880's, Rodin had both a brilliant technique and something to day. It was Rodin's imaginative modeling that re-established sculpture as exaggeration rather than description or literal imitation. Rodin had realized the purification and elevation of sculptural aesthetic by his use of modeling and light. No sculptor of the age could compete with him in the expressiveness and forcefulness of his modeling. The inspiration of his sketches was preserved in the bronze cast rather than being expunged by the polished style in vogue among other sculptors. To his bronzes he also gave a warmth of touch and humanity that refused to be chilled in the frigid salon air. His sculptures emerged from deepening personal convictions and love for his subjects.

Just as the Impressionists derived inspiration from the life of the city (Paris), so too Rodin was to draw upon the society within he worked for his most important ideas.

He responded to his own "impressions" - to use his own word - rather than those of others. This should not be taken to mean that Rodin was an Impressionist like Monet and Pissarro. Rodin was not content with sensory stimuli alone. In contrast to Monet's underseeing, Rodin preserved more of the actual materiality of his subjects and sought to show on the outside what lay behind the sensorily perceivable.

With his consciousness of man's diversity and unity, his aspirations and dignity tempered by finite capacities, Rodin transforms weakness into spirituality. The range of his art from animality to spirituality is also present in Munch, Van Gogh, Heckel, Nolde and Lehmbruck. This transformation and this range are symptomatic of the shift in modern times from a religious to a spiritual art in which the feelings of reverence, faith, and hope formerly addressed to Christ and the saints are transferred to man. The holiness of the living is seen in their suffering, rather than in the passion of the martyrs of the church.

Although painting was closest to life at the time, it is in a work of sculpture, a counterpart of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, that we find an assay of the spiritual cost of the spectacle that was Paris at the end of the last century. In the years when Monet and Renoir were painting joyful scenes of a holiday world and intimate relaxed moments of domestic life, Rodin was working on The Gates of Hell. The opportunity for Rodin to devote an ambitious project to the subject of hell was made possible by a commission from the Beaux Art Committee.

An interesting problem in modern art is the genesis and meaning of The Gates. Despite Rodin's fame and the publicity accorded to his statues, his most important work remains little known and something of a mystery. The drawings Rodin did around this time provide a prophetic prelude to the actual undertaking of the doors. Certain of their characteristics foretell the physical composition of the final sculpture, notably, the isolation of action into single individuals and couples. Before 1880, Rodin was not accustomed to dealing extensively with large episodic figural compositions. He was solely a man-centered artist. This explains some of the great appeal for him of the Divine Comedy and Les Fleurs du Mal. One of the great values of these drawings is that they show Baudelaire's poetry as an articulation of Rodin's ideas as well as a source of his inspiration. A number of the sketches are suitable for illustration of themes the sculptor had chosen previously from Dante. Although the relation of the sculptor to the two poets has been presented separately, it is not difficult to see a blending in Rodin's imagination of what he experienced in reading Baudelaire and Dante. Their ideas, which he had absorbed into his thinking about life, gave him important confidence and stimulation

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