French Sculpture 1875-1900


The Burghers of Calais

Rodin, 1886

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was rejected from entering the Ecole des Beaux-Arts three times, due to his earlier training at a technical school of drawing and mathematics. So instead, at the age of 24, Rodin studied under Barye, and several years later studied with Carrier-Belleuse. He finally made an appearance at the Salon in 1875, and sculpted his first major piece, 'The Age of Bronze', in 1876. In 1844 the town of Calais opened a competition for a monument commemorating the resistance of the town for eleven months against the King Edward in 1346-47. Rodin worked for ten years (1876-86) on a composition of the six burghers that were held hostage. The Municipality felt that the figures were not heroic enough, and many of his contemporaries did not understand his group. The bodies of the six 'Burghers of Calais', as they prepare to terms of surrender, is wrought with emotion--sublime, sad and great. Rodin preferred to have the group stand on the soil, to become part of the population again, but this plan was not adopted. The most remarkable event of Rodin's career was his work on the statue of Balzac. In 1888, the Societe des Gens de Lettres (the president was Emile Zola) had wanted the statue of the great romanticist for a site in Paris. Chapu had begun the project but had died in 1891. Rodin offered to deliver a statue in 18 months. Many years went by, and the delay became the butt of many jokes. There was a lawsuit, and in exchange for no time limit, he had to return the 10,000 francs advanced for materials. Rodin found that this was the most difficult sculptural interpretation he had ever undertaken. He wanted to create the great thinker in action, with all of Balzac's intensity. After years of various interpretations and studies of his subject, the statue was finally exhibited at the Salon of 1898. It was immediately greeted with a chorus of scorn and ridicule. The Societe accepted the popular verdict and refused to recognize it as a statue of Balzac. The current president, poet Jean Aicard, resigned as a result. The commission for a new statue was awarded to Alexandre Falguiere. Rodin did not fight the Societe, and was invited to exhibit it in London and Brussels. He refused generous offers to sell the piece, but stated that it belonged to Paris. Rodin felt that the statue was his best work, stating, "My evolution was complete." And to show that he was not angry with his friend Falguiere, the two executed busts of each other, which were exhibited together in the 1899 Salon.

Balzac, 1892-97




Alexandre Falguiere, 1898

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