Awesome Men Throughout History: Auguste Rodin

When it comes to sculpture, most of our frames of reference are pretty narrow. If it weren’t for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, names like Michaelangelo and Donatello would have virtually no footholds in the popular consciousness. That’s not the worst thing in the world, I guess, but it’s still sad. More than any other art form, sculpture is a full reflection of, and reaction to, the physical world.

That sounds like academic gibberish, and it kind of is, but think about it: most sculpture isn’t bound to paper, canvas, or frames. It stands in three dimensions, just as we do.

My favorite sculptor of all time is Auguste Rodin, creator of ?The Thinker,? so of course he’s this week’s Awesome Man Throughout History. His name extends beyond the visual arts community, but with that said, a lot of people don’t know much about him..

If you’ve seen ?The Thinker,? you know rough and pitted Rodin’s work looks, but there’s an accuracy to it that’s almost more real than real. People are stormy and turbulent and imperfect. We have rough edges. Rodin’s work celebrated that, and highlighted individual character over the descriptive, idealized, and/or allegorical work of his peers.

Given TSB’s interest in developing and celebrating the individual, it’s a wonder I didn’t get to Rodin sooner than I did.

Rodin was born in 1840 to working class parents, and worked as a craftsman and ornamenter when he couldn’t get into art school. He even joined a Catholic order after his sister died, but the order’s founder encouraged him to pursue sculpting, in part because Rodin would have been a lousy monk. His gift with the ladies later in life would prove that fairly conclusively.

Most of Rodin’s most famous sculptures?The Thinker, The Age of Bronze, The Burghers of Calais, etc.?met with controversy from art critics and committees, who didn’t like how realistic and unflattering his work was to its subjects. They were so mad about The Age of Bronze that they accused Rodin of taking a cast from a living model, which is like the sculpture version of tracing. Rodin fought the charges and eventually beat them, but he encountered that kind of resistance for most of his career.

For the record, Rodin’s work is as realistic as it is because he let his models move freely instead of hold poses forever, and many of his sculpture studies were sets of quick sketches of people walking around. Pretty cool.

Auguste Rodin’s deliberate, craftsman’s approach to sculpture is still an inspiration to modern artists of all mediums, and the popularity and critical acclaim his work receives today is well earned. I’ll leave you with this 1915 film footage of Rodin in and around his studio.


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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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