The Rodin 1 Compilation page details The Burghers of Calais and Figure Studies for this sculpture,
which was Auguste Rodin’s first completed public monument and one of his most famous sculptures.
The Burghers and some studies are from the Norton Simon Museum, other studies are at the LACMA.

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Rodin Compilation Index

Rodin Compilation 1:                         Rodin Compilation 2:

       Burghers of Calais                  The Thinker and other Figures
        and Figure Studies                                                                      


Rodin Burghers of Calais 7789

Burghers of Calais, Auguste Rodin, 1889 (cast 1968), French, bronze.

By law, no more than 12 casts can be made of work by Rodin.
This was the 10th cast (the first cast was made in 1895 for Calais).

The Burghers of Calais (Les Monument aux Bourgeois de Calais) is one of the most famous sculptures executed by Auguste Rodin. It was commissioned by the City of Calais in 1885 as a monument of an incident in 1347 during the Hundred Years War. The town council of the port city of Calais wanted to pay tribute to the six Burghers who had risked their lives to save the citizens of Calais after the 11 month siege of King Edward III of England, which had reduced the city to the brink of starvation and thirst.

To save the population Edward required six of the leading citizens to present themselves as hostages in plain garments with nooses around their necks, bearing the keys to the city and citadel. Edward intended to kill the Burghers, but according to the medieval writer Jean Froissart, his pregnant wife Philippa of Hainault intervened, convincing Edward to spare them claiming that their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child. Rodin focused on all six Burghers rather than just the leading citizen, Eustache de Saint-Pierre, as had the previous artists and as the city council originally intended. Rodin accorded each of the six Burghers equal status by placing them all at the same height, and faced them in different directions to require the viewer to circumnavigate the sculpture to be able to appreciate his work in its entirety.


Rodin Burghers of Calais 3343

This page contains images of the group and several bronze studies, taken from different angles and in different light.

The Burghers of Calais was Rodin's first completed major public monument. Rather than submitting a proposal for a solitary sculpture of Eustache Saint-Pierre as originally requested by the city council, Rodin read Froissart’s Chronicles describing the event, and saw the scene as described by Froissart. When the mayor of Calais visited Rodin’s studio, he was impressed, and recommended Rodin to the council. Rodin portrayed the six Burghers at a unique psychological moment, as they are about to leave the city to march to the camp of King Edward III to surrender the keys to the city, and probably their lives.

Rodin’s sculpture consists of six figures standing on the same level in various positions and facing in different directions. They wear the same plain garments, and have similar physiques, however they exhibit different facial expressions: sorrow, despair, and determination. The figures in front are (left to right): Pierre de Wissant (detail and studies below), Eustache Saint-Pierre, and Jean d’Aire. The figures in back are (left to right): Jeanne de Fiennes (detail and studies below), Jacques de Wissant (with his hand in front of his face) and Andrieu d’Andres (with his head buried in his hands).


Rodin Burghers of Calais X2648

The first maquette submitted to the council in 1884 depicted the six burghers in a compact cube, with four figures densely packed in the center and one at each side, connected by a heavy rope and elevated on a high pedestal. In early 1885 the council decided to give Rodin the commission, but insisted that a second maquette, one-third of the final size, had to be submitted prior to the completion of the monumental sculpture. In the second maquette, the Burghers remained in a cube, but they were now modeled separately, with space between them, and all were on the same level, without a pedestal and with Eustache Saint-Pierre in the center. When he submitted the second maquette, the council was critical, objecting to Rodin's failure to follow the rules established by the École des Beaux-Arts for heroic monumental sculpture, as well as the defeated posture and level layout of the figures, preferring the accepted pyramidal composition of the Jacques-Louis David method from the early 1800s. Rodin was adamant that the prevailing academic style produced works which are cold, static and conventional, and the mayor campaigned on his side. The city council finally relented and authorized Rodin to proceed with the project.


Rodin Burghers of Calais X2656

Burghers of Calais, Auguste Rodin, 1889 (cast 1968), French, bronze.

Rodin worked feverishly on the details of the figures, separately modeling hands, feet, bodies and heads, spending most of his time on the hands. He produced several hundred studies for the group, isolated figures and parts of figures, and over 250 of these were later cast in bronze. He combined and recombined the parts until he was satisfied, and the individual figures were finished by 1888. The plaster model of Les Monument aux Bourgeois de Calais was exhibited to the public in 1889 at the Monet/Rodin Exhibition in Paris to great acclaim both from the public and critics, but the mayor of Calais was not re-elected and the new mayor was not inclined to support the project. In 1893, Mayor Dewavrin was re-elected and his support along with that of the public enabled the council to complete the national subscription for the financing of the final casting. The 5000 pound monument was unveiled in Calais in June 1895 in front of 30,000 people, in the greatest official triumph of Rodin’s career.

Rodin was not pleased with the original display of the Calais sculpture group as it was erected on a tall pedestal enclosed by an iron fence, rather than on a low base in front of the town hall. It was installed as he wished in 1924, seven years after Rodin died.


Rodin Saint-Pierre d’Aire detail X2848c

Detail of the leading Burgher, Eustache de Saint-Pierre (left) and the second to volunteer, Jean d’Aire,
with the key at right. On the far left, Jacques de Wissant dramatically covers his face with his right hand.

Eustache de Saint-Pierre was the first of the Burghers to risk his life by volunteering to hand over the keys to Edward III. The oldest of the group, Eustache Saint-Pierre was considered the core figure and was the focus of previous works. Rodin rejected the established conventions of public sculpture, refusing to execute a pyramidal monument raising Eustache Saint-Pierre above the other figures and portrayed the men not as glorious heroes, but as troubled and isolated individuals brought together by their anguish and common purpose, and standing on the same level, with no clear indication of which is the leader of the group.

The Burghers are dressed in plain garments made of sackcloth, with nooses around their necks. Their hands are proportionally quite large, and their figures are emaciated and weak from famine. Each face exhibits a different response to their situation.


Rodin Burghers of Calais X2657


Rodin Burghers of Calais X2660

In contravention to the established rules of the École des Beaux-Arts, Rodin’s Burghers of Calais challenged tradition in every possible way. Rather than portraying Eustache Saint-Pierre as a heroic figure atop a pyramidal composition on a pedestal, with (or without) the other five Burghers in reduced positions below him, Rodin chose to portray the six figures in a naturalistic manner, standing on the same level on a low base, occupying the space of the viewer and enhancing the emotional impact.

The composition of the Burghers of Calais reconciles the individuality of each figure with the unity of the whole. "Each figure is allotted the amount of space he physically and psychologically needs and no more." To study the gestures of each figure, the viewer must move around the burghers counterclockwise to best see their movement and appreciate the relationship of each to the other and to the whole. The features and proportions are distorted to intensify the expressiveness of the figures struggling with their conflicting thoughts of fear, indecision, anguish, and nobility. Note the disproportionate size of the hands and feet.


Rodin Burghers Pierre de Wissant 7720


Rodin Burghers Pierre de Wissant 3367

Rodin created many studies of Pierre de Wissant, experimenting with various body types and poses. In the
final monument the burgher looks back over his shoulder, his hand extended as if in despair. His face shows
great anguish and the intensity of his emotions give him the appearance of withdrawing from the other figures.

At left, detail of Pierre de Wissant from the Burghers of Calais shown in the low contrast light of a cloudy day. At right, a diagonal view of the sculptural group with emphasis on Pierre de Wissant and Jean d’Aire, taken in the early afternoon on a sunny day. Below, a low contrast close view of Pierre de Wissant taken from a lower angle at noon on a very bright but overcast day.


Rodin Burghers Pierre de Wissant 1292

Following his older brother Jacques, Pierre de Wissant was the fourth burgher to volunteer and the second youngest. Rodin made a number of studies of the head and body of Pierre de Wissant, both nude and draped, and treated  the neck, muscles, hands, drapery and position of the rope differently. As can be seen by comparison with the nude and final dressed studies below, his final figure used a composite neck, elongated over his figure from the second maquette but not as long as that on the nude study, with tendons strained much like those of the dressed study, and using the hand position from the dressed study.


Rodin Burghers Pierre de Wissant 7722


Rodin Burghers Pierre de Wissant 3873

Detail of the head, neck and right arm of Pierre de Wissant, taken in low-contrast light in the
late afternoon on a cloudy day, and in higher-contrast light in the mid-afternoon on a sunny day.
Compare the final figure with the same view of the nude and dressed bronze studies shown below.


Rodin Pierre de Wissant dressed 3891


Rodin Pierre de Wissant nude 3366

Pierre de Wissant, Vetu (dressed), Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. I
Pierre de Wissant, Nude, Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. II

A comparison of the dressed and nude bronze studies for Pierre de Wissant, showing the head, neck, right arm and hand. Note the different tilt of the head (slightly further back and canted toward the right shoulder on the nude), the longer neck on the nude with smoother and more prominent rendering of the tendons, and the different tilt of the wrist and rotation of the hand.


Rodin Pierre de Wissant dressed 3369


Rodin Pierre de Wissant dressed X2652

Detail of the bronze study of Pierre de Wissant, dressed. Note the emaciated character of the figure, portraying the results of the famine caused by the eleven month long siege of Calais. The figure is a composite of many individual studies of heads, hands, bodies and feet, and was modeled and executed nude before being clothed in the voluminous Gothic drapery.


Rodin Pierre de Wissant dressed 7728


Rodin Pierre de Wissant dressed HS7364

With this figure, Rodin explores the highly emotional contemplation of the idea of his own death by a young man in his prime. Rodin created a tremendous amount of drama with the head and neck, the facial expression, and the arm and hand position.


Rodin Pierre de Wissant nude 3814


Rodin Pierre de Wissant nude 7772

Pierre de Wissant, Nude, Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. II

Two images of the nude study for Pierre de Wissant, taken in different light.
Note the more elongated neck with smoother tendons and the hand position.
Also, note the emaciated body after 11 months of famine caused by the siege.

Rodin created a number of models for each figure, including several studies of the full figures both nude and dressed as well as the separate hands, heads, busts, etc. The 1885 nude study had an entirely different face and hair treatment, and although the right arm was raised in a similar position, both hands had the fingers curled touching the thumb. This nude study was done after the figure had been refined to nearly its final state, but Rodin was still experimenting with the length of the neck, the character of the straining tendons of the neck, the head position and the position of the right hand and wrist.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes X2664

Jean de Fiennes, Vetu (dressed), Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. I

There are over a hundred surviving three-dimensional studies which Rodin created for the Burghers of Calais, including hands, feet, heads, headless figures, facial masks, and complete figures, both nude and dressed as well as the two maquettes. The bodies of the six Burghers were created separately from the heads, and he created the individual clay working models at high speed while watching a group of nude models "selected for their strength of character and a maturity hardened by arduous physical labor or combat". He then created the full-size studies nude before draping the figures. This is the Grand Model study.

The name Jean de Fiennes does not appear in Froissart's Chronicles, where only four of the burghers are mentioned specifically by name. The names of the two unidentified burghers, Jean de Fiennes and Andrieu d'Andres, were discovered in the Vatican Library in 1863. Jeanne de Fiennes was the youngest of the Burghers, and Rodin modeled his figure with arms outspread and mouth open, as if he were questioning his decision to sacrifice himself for the safety of the people of Calais.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes 3346


Rodin Jean de Fiennes 7733

Jean de Fiennes went through the most changes of any of the figures from the first to the second maquettes and through the studies to the Grand Model. The shape of the head, the face and facial expression, the position of the head, body, arms and legs, hands and feet all changed through several studies to the second maquette, when the general position and stance were defined but everything else was still to be refined. The final Grand Model had long wavy hair, lighter drapery with vertical folds revealing the feet, and an expression with lips parted and brow furrowed, that along with the position of the hands gives the figure a doubting disposition as he looks back towards Calais, which he may never see again.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes 3862


Rodin Jean de Fiennes HS7372

A series of frontal angles and close portraits of the bronze study for Jean de Fiennes, dressed,
showing the hand positions, drapery and hair, and the furrowed brow and parted lips of the figure.

These images were taken at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. Further below are
similar images taken at the LA County Museum of Art showing the sculpture in different light.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes HS7371

The combination of the theatrical gestures and his facial expression masterfully impart the doubt which
Jean de Fiennes must have felt when departing Calais towards his uncertain fate at the hands of Edward III.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes 3865


Rodin Jean de Fiennes X2650

Detail of the facial expression of Rodin’s Grand Model study of Jean de Fiennes for the Burghers of Calais.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes X2666

The Grand Model study of Jean de Fiennes for the Burghers of Calais, standing in the mid-afternoon shadows.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes X2667

Jean de Fiennes, Vetu (dressed), Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. I

The youngest Burgher, doubting his decision, looks back towards Calais as he departs to his uncertain fate.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes 0791

Jean de Fiennes, Draped, Auguste Rodin, France, bronze
modelled 1885-86, this cast 1987 (Musée Rodin, III of IV)

The Grand Model for Jean de Fiennes, draped, taken in the Cantor Sculpture Garden at the
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Several images are shown below taken in different light.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes 3019


Rodin Jean de Fiennes 3982


Rodin Jean de Fiennes detail 4321

Facial detail of Rodin’s Grand Model of Jean de Fiennes for the Burghers of Calais.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes 8151


Rodin Jean de Fiennes Jean d'Aire 8125

Grand Model studies of Jean de Fiennes and Jean d’Aire in the Cantor Sculpture Garden at LACMA.


Rodin Jean d'Aire 0785


Rodin Jean d'Aire 8116

Jean d'Aire, Auguste Rodin, France, bronze
modelled 1886, this cast 1972 (Musée Rodin 6/12)

The Grand Model for Jean d'Aire, the second of the Burghers to volunteer to present the keys to the City and Citadel of Calais to King Edward III after the 11 month siege in 1347 during the Hundred Years War. He is depicted holding the Key, with his head held high looking straight ahead with a defiant attitude. His hands, feet and the key are exaggerated and enlarged, and he is portrayed barefoot, dressed in sackcloth and wearing a noose around his neck. He is the most determined of the Burghers, with his feet planted firmly on the ground, his arms straight, and his torso rigid and motionless.


Rodin Monumental Head Jean d'Aire 0801


Rodin Monumental Head Jean d'Aire 0804

Monumental Head of Jean d'Aire, Auguste Rodin, France, bronze
modelled 1884-86, enlarged 1909-10, this cast 1971 (Musée Rodin 2/12)

Jean d'Aire was the second burgher to volunteer after Eustache de St. Pierre. According to the medieval writer Jean Froissart, he was a "greatly respected and wealthy citizen, who had two beautiful daughters". Rodin modeled him as an older man, with his eyes betraying sadness, yet with his firmly turned-down mouth and forceful jaw exposing an angry strength. The Calais Municipal Council was was not pleased with the apparent dejection of the figures, as they expected the typically heroic monumental sculpture of the period, although Rodin had deliberately labored over the features of the figures in his first maquette which he presented to the Council and from which he was given the commission.


Rodin Monumental Head Jean d'Aire 3021


Rodin Monumental Head Jean d'Aire 8128

In modeling his figures, Rodin sought to capture the personality, intellect and emotion of each subject. Rodin
created numerous fragmentary studies for each figure: heads, hands, feet, headless figures and facial masks.
The bodies of the six Burghers were created separately from the heads, and the faces were intricately modeled.


Rodin Monumental Head Jean d'Aire 3992

The Monumental Head of Jean d’Aire stares resolutely over the Cantor Sculpture Garden at LACMA.


Rodin Monumental Head Pierre de Wissant 0788


Rodin Monumental Head Pierre de Wissant 0779

Monumental Head of Pierre de Wissant, Auguste Rodin, France, bronze
modelled 1884-1885, enlarged 1909, this cast 1971 (Musée Rodin 3/12)

Pierre de Wissant (or Wiessant depending on the source) was the second youngest and followed his older brother Jacques, who was the third Burgher to volunteer. This is the final form of the Type A head used for the final figure, looking down over his right shoulder, portrayed as an older youth with short hair, his brow knitted tightly, his eyes half shut and his mouth parted.


Rodin Monumental Head Pierre de Wissant 0784


Rodin Monumental Head Pierre de Wissant 4323

I have provided a number of angles and closeups of this exceptionally expressive head taken in different light.


Rodin Monumental Head Pierre de Wissant 0773c


Rodin Monumental Head Pierre de Wissant 0775c

Rodin did many studies to explore the character and pose of each burgher before deciding on the details of the final monument. In his head studies, he focused on depth of emotion as reflected in their faces. The Monumental Head of Pierre de Wissant is an enlarged version of the final head study in which Rodin depicted a youth in the face of death.


Rodin Monumental Head Pierre de Wissant 3984


Rodin Monumental Head Pierre de Wissant 3990

Rodin believed that the attributes of the surface of a sculpture could help determine the emotional content. His rough, expressive modeling of the surface would catch the light and add a vital, emotional impact to his work. In his day, sculptures were either placed outside or were lit indoors by flickering candles or gas-lights. The variable or flickering light would reflect off of his expressively modeled surfaces, changing the character of the sculpture.


Rodin Monumental Head Pierre de Wissant 4324


Rodin Monumental Head Pierre de Wissant 4325

The enlarged final head study of Pierre de Wissant for The Burghers of Calais.


Click the Display Composite above to visit the Rodin Compilation 2 page.