H. de Roos - Rodin´s Approach to Art

12. The uncompleted monuments

In 1889, during the Universal Exhibition, Rodin showed his model of The Gates of Hell to a number of visitors. But since the projected Museum of Decorative Arts was never realized as planned, Rodin continued to modify his creation and finally showed a version stripped of all narrative decoration in his Pavilion at de Place d´Alma in 1900, in tune with his later rejection of dramatic reliefs and his new preference for “blonde” sculpture. 


Rodin in front of The Gates of Hell in plaster,
with Henriette Coltat. Photo: Pierrre Choumoff
Musée Rodin, Ph. 823

Whereas there was no exigent time pressure to complete The Gates of Hell, in other cases Rodin drove the various committees in charge to despair. In her book “After Rodin”, Penelope Curtis points to Rodin´s inability to complete a commissioned work within the prescribed time. 

The first maquette for the Monument to the Burghers of Calais, 35 cm high, convinces the committee as early as 1884. Rodin is awarded the contract and is asked to produce a second maquette at a third of the final version. It takes him six months to complete this model, presented in July 1885. This version does not meet the undivided approval of the committee, though, and many changes are proposed. The over-lifesize bronze cast, weighing more than 2,200 kg, can only be completed and installed in 1895, ten years later. 

The Monument to Balzac originally was commissioned to the sculptor Henri Chapu. When Chapu dies in 1891, his work still unfinished, Emile Zola, the new president of Societé des Gens de Lettres, invites Rodin to be a candidate. Rodin promises to deliver a three meters tall bronze sculpture within 18 months, and is accepted by the Societé

The artist sets out to find men in the region of Balzac´s home town Tours, whose physiognomy might resemble that of the great writer. A suitable male model he finally finds disappears. Rodin continues to make numerous studies of his subject, nude, in a frock coat, then in a dressing gown the writer used to wear. Years go by – Rodin has not finished his model yet. Zola is no longer president of the Societé, his successor threatens to dissolve the contract and pass the commission to another sculptor. Rodin puts the 10,000 francs he has received in advance in escrow, and promises to speed up his work on the monument. In 1898 finally, his plaster model is shown in the Salon, exposed to an unforgiving critique.. and rejected by the Societé.

Three head studies for Balzac Monument
albumen print, 9,5 x 15,1cm
Musée Rodin Ph. 1213

Midnight ("Monument to Balzac" 
at Meudon), 1908. Photo: Steichen




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