The Rodin 2 Compilation page houses images of The Thinker, one of the most celebrated sculptures
the world has ever known; the Monument to Balzac, which caused a public scandal that swept France;
plus The Shade, Orpheus, and several other Rodin sculptures, mostly from the La County Museum of Art.

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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 The Thinker 3840

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin, 1880 and 1902, French, bronze, Edition of 12, Cast No. 11

When conceived in 1880 in its original size (approximately 28 inches) as the crowning element of The Gates of Hell, seated on the tympanum, The Thinker was entitled The Poet. He represented Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy which had inspired The Gates of Hell, leaning forward to observe the circles of Hell while meditating on his work. The pose of this figure is based on Carpeaux’s Ugolino and the seated portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici carved by Michelangelo.

While remaining in place on the monumental Gates of Hell, The Thinker was exhibited individually in 1888 and thus became an independent work. Enlarged in 1902, its monumental version proved even more popular and has become one of the most celebrated sculptures ever known. Numerous casts exist worldwide, cast in multiple versions at different sizes.


Rodin The Thinker 3838


Rodin The Thinker 7748

This sculpture of The Thinker by Auguste Rodin is at the Norton Simon Museum.

The Thinker originally overlooked the center of the Gates of Hell and was 70 cm tall (~28 in.).
Seated below the Three Shades at the base of the pediment over the Gates, The Thinker drew
a lot of attention, and like many other figures for the Gates, it became an independent sculpture.

The clay model of The Thinker was completed in 1880-81, where it was the model for the lintel below the pediment, overlooking the monumental Gates of Hell. The Gates were commissioned from Rodin when he was an impoverished artist without academic training or awards, and became his most important and most prodigious work. The Gates were never cast for the originally intended position in the Museum of Decorative Arts, as that museum was never built. Instead, the Gare d'Orsay railroad station was built on the site, the same year that Rodin first exhibited the plaster version of the Gates of Hell in 1900, and the government never ordered the completion and casting. Rodin continued to work on the project for 37 years until his death in 1917. After Rodin's death, five privately-funded bronze casts were made and one for the Rodin Museum in Paris. The only cast done via the lost-wax method specified by Rodin is the one commissioned by B. Gerald Cantor, a tremendously committed collector of Rodin sculptures. This casting toured the US before arriving at its permanent home at Stanford University.


Rodin Gates of Hell Stanford


Rodin Gates of Hell Zurich

At left, the lost-wax casting of the Gates of Hell commissioned by B. Gerald Cantor, now at Stanford University.
At right is the casting located in the Kuntsthaus Zurich Gallery of the Kunstlergesellschaft in Zurich, Switzerland.

Rodin was inspired by Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise at the Baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence, Italy.


Rodin Gates of Hell detail

Detail of The Thinker overlooking the Gates of Hell at Stanford University.

Public criticism, which was derived from the perception that Rodin had not completed the Gates and that they were not ready for delivery, drew strong defenses from Rodin and others. At the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900, Rodin held his first major retrospective called Exposition Rodin, where he exhibited the plaster model of the Gates, along with 170 of his works including many sculptures from the Gates of Hell. Rodin was hailed as the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo and Donatello and he sold over 200,000 francs worth of sculptures, taking orders from museums and collectors from around the world. The Gates were not cast  until after Rodin's death in 1917, and contain a number of reliefs and sculptures such as the Thinker and the other protruding sculptural elements which were not part of the 1900 Gates, but which were in his studio since at least 1900. These were all assembled just before the death of Rodin by M. Bénédite, who would become the first director of the Rodin Museum.


Rodin The Thinker 3846


Rodin The Thinker 3849

The Thinker is the 11th casting of Rodin’s monumental solo sculpture derived from The Poet, a representation of Dante Alighieri overlooking the Gates of Hell (according to the Rodin Museum). The inspiration was Dante’s 1321 poem The Divine Comedy. The original sculpture was first named The Thinker by foundry workers who noted its similarity to the Michelangelo sculpture of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Il Penseroso (The Thinker), and Rodin decided to treat the sculpture as an independent work at a larger size (73 inches). He would cast and patinate five monumental versions before he died. 25 monumental bronze casts exist, as well as a number of plaster and study-size castings. At least seven or eight were cast from the original set of enlargements which Rodin had begun before his death. This was the eleventh casting, done from an original enlargement.


Rodin The Thinker X2642


Rodin The Thinker X2644

Designed to be seen from below, The Thinker is displayed on a fairly tall plinth. Rodin's original
28 inch model was traced using an enlarging and reducing pantograph called the Collas machine,
invented in 1836 by the French engineer Achille Collas, then further modified and with a technique
that was developed by Rodin’s assistant Henri Lebosse. Using the Lebosse process, the original
model was "traced" onto another block of clay, and in the process, enlarged to monumental size.
After its first exhibition, a public petition was circulated to have the colossal sculpture purchased
for donation to the people of France. It was cast and placed outside of the Pantheon in Paris.


Rodin The Thinker X2669

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin, 1880 and 1902, French, bronze, Edition of 12, Cast No. 11

The image of The Thinker is not that of a passive dreamer, but of a man actively engaged in creative thought. Thinking has been expressed not only through the meditative attitude of the body, but through the effort of every muscle. As Rodin said, "What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fists and gripping toes."


Rodin The Shade 4468


Rodin The Shade 4467

The Shade, Auguste Rodin, France, bronze
modelled 1880, enlarged 1901, this cast 1969 (Musée Rodin 6/12)

Rodin's The Shade is a singular sculpture which was created as a trio of identical figures for the pinnacle of the Gates of Hell. Dante, in the Inferno, describes three shades who danced in a circle as they told of their woe in Hades. Rodin's Three Shades stand at the center of the top lintel of the Gates of Hell, crowning the tympanum just above The Thinker. The downward gesture of their left arms and their heads conveys despair as it summons the viewer to gaze upon the Gates. Each shade in The Three Shades is the same figure, not a different sculpture; each is repeated and juxtaposed to form a new composition. Their formal history derives from Rodin's Adam, but the Shades show less tension and greater coordination of movement. The Three Shades at the original size intended for the Gates did not have hands. The enlarged version added the hands and reveals the Michelangelesque muscularity Rodin so admired in Italian Renaissance sculpture.


Rodin The Shade 3985


Rodin The Shade 8114

The Shade (a ghost or phantom) stands with his head radically twisted to the side, gesturing downward, appearing weary and despondent. After an 1875 visit to Michelangelo’s work in Italy, Rodin began a piece of sculpture that was greatly influenced by Michelangelo’s painting of the Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Rodin altered the pose of Michelangelo’s reclining figure, making his Adam upright with his hand gesturing downward instead of outward. Eventually Rodin’s Shade originated as a variation of his Adam. For the Three Shades atop the Gates of Hell, Rodin deprived the Shade of his right hand (the creative hand) to symbolize their powerlessness, and represented the left hand as a modeled fist. He made three identical casts of the same figure, each positioned at a different angle, knowing they would lose their identity as Adam.


Rodin Orpheus 8148

Orpheus (Orphée), Auguste Rodin, France, bronze
modelled 1890-1900, this cast 1969 (Musée Rodin 6/12)

This sculpture, with its intense torsion and strain, its mixture of exaltation and despair, reflects the complexity of the theme and Rodin's willingness to have his works express the internal conflict and ambiguity of actual experience, even when dealing with a mythological theme. Orpheus was a legendary musician and poet in ancient Greek mythology who had the ability to charm all living things, gods and other deities, and even stones with his music. He perfected the lyre, and was said to be able to coax the trees and rocks to dance with his music. One of the famous stories of Orpheus is his journey to Hell to save his wife Eurydice.

While walking among her people in tall grass at her wedding, Eurydice was set upon by a satyr, and in her efforts to escape, Eurydice fell into a nest of vipers and suffered a fatal bite on her heel. Her body was discovered by Orpheus who, overcome with grief, played such sad and mournful songs that all the nymphs and gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus travelled to the underworld and by his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone (the only person ever to do so). They agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. He set off with Eurydice following, and as soon as he reached the upper world, he turned to look at her, forgetting that both needed to be in the upper world, and she vanished for the second time, but now forever.

Rodin’s Orpheus started as part of his enormous project The Gates of Hell. The sculpture depicts the tragic moment when he loses Eurydice. Rodin did several versions of this sculpture with and without Eurydice. This is the 1892 version without Eurydice. The figure of Orpheus is relatively smooth and his gestures are theatrical but realistic, but his lyre is a formless structure and the tree against which he leans is roughly modeled, the three radically different elements creating a palpable tension. Rodin stated that he intentionally left the tree and the lyre unfinished to give his sculpture “atmosphere”.


Rodin Jules Bastien-Lepage 4322


Rodin Jules Bastien-Lepage 8111

Jules Bastien-Lepage, Auguste Rodin, France, bronze
modelled 1887, this cast 1987 (Musée Rodin 2/8)

This sculpture of the naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage was made for the monument commemorating the artist which stands in his native town of Damvillers, near Verdun in the Meuse. Jules Bastien-Lepage, who died of cancer at the age of 36, dedicated his art to the representation of peasant life and, even before the Impressionists, was an outspoken enthusiast of plein air painting. After his death, his family and friends wanted to celebrate his memory with a monument, and so his brother Emile Bastien-Lepage turned to Rodin, knowing that Jules and the sculptor had been good friends.


Rodin Jules Bastien-Lepage 0765


Rodin Jules Bastien-Lepage 3017

In July 1885, Rodin sent his first model to Emile Bastien-Lepage, who replied, “What you have sent me is superb, which doesn’t surprise me in the least when I see your signature on its base. Thank you for both of us.” However, in 1887, the committee that had commissioned the monument, taken aback by the model’s naturalistic mode, expressed serious reservations about it. But Rodin had supporters among members of the commissioning committee added at the last minute, and so was able to get their consent for a second more sober model in 1887, showing the subject with his right arm hanging loose at his side.


Rodin Jules Bastien-Lepage 3040


Rodin Jules Bastien-Lepage 4326

Closeups of the upper body of Rodin’s Monument to the naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage.

The life-sized version of the final monument was dedicated in 1889, five years after the artist's premature death. It was the first time he’d been commissioned to create a monument for a public space, and the first time he’d done a work that constituted a posthumous homage for someone that he had known personally. In his image of Bastien-Lepage, Rodin placed the figure standing on uneven ground, leaning forward with a short cape covering his shoulders, bracing himself as if against a wind.


Rodin Monument to Balzac 1282

Monument to Balzac, Auguste Rodin, 1897, French, bronze, Edition of 12, Cast No. 8

The most controversial of Rodin’s sculptures, which caused a public scandal that literally divided France.

Given the power and brutality of the human form in Auguste Rodin’s Monument to Balzac, it is no surprise to find that the work was universally rejected by all but the most progressive viewers upon its first exhibition in 1898. The sculpture, intended as a representation of Balzac’s persona rather than as a physical likeness, is an expressive, potent portrait of the embattled writer, and it took Rodin seven years of meticulous study to complete. Its action, its plays with light, and its spectacular vitality, all cornerstones of Rodin’s technique, broke entirely with the sculptural traditions of the past and nearly singlehandedly brought the medium into the 20th century. Rodin himself said that the work was beyond compare, claiming that it was “the sum of my whole life, the result of a lifetime of effort, the mainspring of my aesthetic theory. From the day of its conception, I was a changed man.”


Rodin Monument to Balzac 3828


Rodin Monument to Balzac 7717

Honoré de Balzac, the vastly influential French author of the series of 91 stories and novels entitled The Human Comedy, died in 1850, but it was not until 1891 that Rodin was commissioned by the Société des Gens de Lettres de France to sculpt the monument, on the recommendation of the new president Émile Zola. Rodin immersed himself in the study of Balzac, reading his works, studying photographs and lithographs, sculptures, paintings and drawings of the author, and even tracked down his tailor and had a pair of pants and a waistcoat made to Balzac's measurements. Rodin created over 50 studies simultaneously, most of them being heads, with some headless bodies, and a number of complete figures in various dressed and undressed states. His Balzac in Dominican Robe created the fundamental version of the clothing Rodin would use for the final figure. The Final Study joined the Naked Balzac (with altered arm positions) with the Monumental Head and a drastic reworking of the monk's garb of Balzac in Dominican Robe, with smoother drapery and hanging sleeves leading up to the massive head.

By 1893, some members of the society were concerned that Rodin would be unable to complete the statue in time for the Balzac Centennial in 1899, and sent a committee to Rodin's studio, where they were shocked by "a strange Balzac in the attitude of a wrestler". Émile Zola calmed the critics and persuaded them to give Rodin another year. In 1894 the committee again visited Rodin's studio, and declared the statue "artistically inadequate". The new president of the society was shocked when a motion was passed to force Rodin to deliver the statue in 24 hours or forfeit his commission, and along with Rodin's friends persuaded the committee to give Rodin another year. The opposition persisted and legal actions against Rodin were filed. The president and several other members of the society resigned in protest. The scandal soon became public, and the Balzac affair became the passionate artistic issue among Paris intellectuals. The attacks against Rodin grew vicious.


Rodin Monument to Balzac 7738


Rodin Monument to Balzac HS7378

The Balzac scandal soon became aligned with the infamous Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer in the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War, was made a scapegoat to explain the French defeat, and was convicted of treason and imprisoned for life for transmitting secrets to the German Embassy based upon faulty evidence and anti-Semitism. Two years after Dreyfus was imprisoned on Devil's Island, evidence came to light that an Army major was the culprit, but some General Staff officers in the French Army suppressed the evidence against the major, and he was acquitted in a two day trial. The Army then accused Dreyfus of additional charges using falsified documents. Émile Zola wrote an open letter, J'Accuse, which was published in a French newspaper and spread the word of the military framing Dreyfus, causing an intense political and judicial scandal that divided French society. The Balzac scandal divided along the same lines.

Rodin's vision was to "represent Balzac in his study, breathless, hair in disorder, eyes lost in a dream...", and he worked constantly to render the drapery. Balzac always wore an ample robe of white cashmere lined with white silk at home, cut like a monk's habit and tied with a belt of knotted silk. When the final sculpture was unveiled, many of Rodin's detractors from the lengthy public scandal surrounding the sculpture (see the Rodin page) labeled the statue a seal, a sack of potatoes, or a pig. The Monument to Balzac was rejected by the Société des Gens de Lettres de France, and Rodin withdrew from the controversy with dignity, refusing to sell the statue and returning his commission. After this experience, Rodin never again completed a public commission. The first bronze cast was erected in Paris in 1939, 22 years after Rodin's death.


Rodin Monument to Balzac 4455

Monument to Honore de Balzac, Auguste Rodin, France, bronze
modelled 1897, this cast 1967 (Musée Rodin 9/12)

The casting at the LA County Museum of Art is mounted on a tall plinth,
providing a perspective with a radical low-angle view of the sculpture.


Rodin Mrs. Russell 3208


Rodin Gustave Geffroy 3235

Portrait of Marianna Mattiocco della Torre (Mrs. Russell), Auguste Rodin,
France, bronze, modelled 1887-1889, this cast 1972 (Musée Rodin 5/12)

Mrs. Russell was a model of Italian origin who married the Australian painter John Peter Russell. They were both associated with the Impressionists, and friends of van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Monet, and Geffroy. The Russells met Rodin through their mutual friends Monet and Geffroy, and Rodin was impressed with Marianna Russell’s classic features and had her pose for sculptures of several ancient deities, including Ceres, Minerva with a Helmet, and Pallas with the Parthenon. In her portrait, Rodin modeled the surface with few irregularities, foregoing his characteristic complex surface modeling to capture her beauty, aloofness and quiet thoughtfulness. He emphasized her strong, angular features and penetrated the understated surface to reveal Mrs. Russell’s intelligence and character. Rodin sculpted Mrs. Russell at the height of his power, and while the surface is much simpler than most of his works, he has succeeded in capturing an insight into her personality and character. Rodin made the first version of this portrait in solid wax, and her beauty and the sculpted interpretation pleased him so much that he had the first metal cast made in silver and frequently exhibited it. He submitted the silver cast to the Paris Salon in 1888, but it was rejected by the judges so he showed it in his exhibition with Claude Monet. The following year it was accepted by the Salon.

Portrait of Gustave Geffroy, Auguste Rodin, France, 1905, bronze

Gustave Geffroy was a journalist, novelist and historian, and was one of the period’s outstanding art critics. A staunch defender and friend of Auguste Rodin, and one of the earliest historians of the Impressionist art movement, Geffroy also was good friends with Claude Monet, who introduced him to Paul Cezanne, who painted Geffroy’s portrait in 1895. Gustave Geffroy often visited Rodin's studio, and was well aware of the artist's motivations and his work. He wrote the catalog essay on Rodin for the 1889 Monet-Rodin exhibition, among others, and was Rodin's most brilliant lifetime interpreter. Rodin chose his male subjects for their achievement and character, and preferred to do portraits of his friends and those he admired. He possessed a genius for portraying the psychological dimensions of personality, and was unmatched as a portrait sculptor by his contemporaries.


Rodin Fallen Caryatid with Urn 3206


Rodin Mask of Hanako 3218

Fallen Caryatid with Urn, Auguste Rodin, France, bronze,
modelled 1883, this cast 1967 (Musée Rodin 5/12)

The ancient Greeks considered caryatids to be priestesses (literally, “Maidens of Karyai”, an ancient town of the Peloponnese peninsula with a famous temple to Artemis, who carried baskets of live reeds on their heads during their ecstatic dance to Artemis), and draped versions of caryatids were used as architectural props, supporting columns in the form of upright women. Caryatids were revived in the Renaissance and used in architecture and decorative arts. Unlike these upright caryatids, Rodin’s are compressed figures collapsing under their burdens. Designed for the Gates of Hell (shown further up on this page), the two caryatids (Fallen Caryatid with Stone and Fallen Caryatid with Urn) are derived from Dante’s description in the Purgatorio of frightened souls expiating their sins by carrying huge burdens on their backs. The Urn is associated with tomb ornamentation and is a symbol of bereavement. Both of Rodin's Fallen Caryatids were considered by Rodin and his friends to be among his very best compositions, and the Fallen Caryatid with Stone was the first figure from the Gates of Hell to be reworked in marble and exhibited as a free-standing work of art. There are numerous versions of each, in bronze, marble and limestone.

Monumental Mask of Hanako, Auguste Rodin, France, bronze,
modelled 1907-1908, this cast 1972 (Musée Rodin 2/12)

Hanako was the stage name of the Japanese actress and dancer Ohta Hisa, who was trained as a geisha and joined the American dancer Loïe Fuller as a mime in her company in Paris in 1904. Rodin met Hanako in 1906 and was impressed with her wide range of Kabuki-inspired expressions. She posed for Rodin between 1907 and 1911, and he produced more studies of Hanako than any other model. She could hold difficult poses for very long periods of time. There are 53 busts, heads and masks of Hanako in the Musée Rodin. The Mask of Hanako is a formal but psychologically expressive head which, along with the other heads in the series, was considered unprecedented in either Western or Eastern sculpture as a revelation of the changes in expression which can be enacted on one woman's face. Rodin called this version Mask of the Anguish of Death, and it was a reprise of a death scene Rodin had seen Hanako perform in 1906.


Rodin Fugitive Love 3202

Fugitive Love (Fugit Amor), Auguste Rodin, France, bronze
modelled 1881-1887, this cast 1969 (Musée Rodin 10/12)

Fugitive Love (Fugit Amor) was created for the Gates of Hell (shown further up on this page), and like several other sculptures which were created for the Gates, it became an independent work of art that is better known than the Gates of Hell. The female below eludes the grasp of the male, whose back moves along the back of her legs as he grasps for his lover, who flies away from him, holding her hands on her head. Rodin used the composition to symbolize man’s psychological inability to comprehend woman, a common theme in 19th c. European art and literature. It appears twice on the Gates, in two different compositions. The male body from Fugitive Love was separated and exhibited as a single work in 1894 called The Prodigal Son, with the figure in an upright position. This sculpture group is one of a number of frustrated lovers depicted on the Gates of Hell.


Rodin Paolo and Francesca 3199

Paolo and Francesca, Auguste Rodin, France, bronze
modelled 1887-1889, this cast 1972 (Musée Rodin 1/12)

Dante, in the Inferno, meets Paolo Malatesta and Francesca de Rimini. Francesca explained that their love began innocently while they were “reading about Lancelot and how love seized upon him... But there was one passage that was our ruin. When we read how this tender lover kissed a smile on the adored mouth, he who shall never leave me tremblingly kissed me on the mouth.” The lovers were discovered by Francesca’s husband, who murdered them both. Paolo and Francesca were consigned to the Circle of Carnal Sinners for their adultery. The pathos of this story inspired Rodin to incorporate it in the Gates of Hell, and he gave it a prominent position on the lower left door below Ugolino and His Sons. The story of Paolo and Francesca also inspired The Kiss, but Rodin did not include that piece in the Gates. Images of the Gates of Hell are further above on this page.


Bourdelle Bust of Rodin 4318

Bust of Rodin, Émile-Antoine Bourdelle, France, 1909-1910, bronze

Émile-Antoine Bourdelle began sculpting at a young age, making many of his first works in wood. He moved to Paris in 1884, and from 1893 to 1908 he worked as a pupil and assistant in the studio of Auguste Rodin. He completed this bust of the master after leaving Rodin’s studio. More images of the Bust of Rodin and other works are on the LACMA Sculpture Garden page.


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