H. de Roos - Rodin´s Approach to Art

13. Art in public space 

Evidently, not only Rodin´s habit of ignoring deadlines was a source of friction. Being convinced of his artistic conception, Rodin refused to serve given expectations. When the second maquette of the Calais Monument met critique, Rodin insisted it had not been presented to negotiate a completely new design. Instead of focussing on the first of the citizens who had volunteered, Eustache de Saint-Pierre, Rodin decided to portray six individuals. Instead of idealising the dignity of their heroic sacrifice, he revealed their misery and inner conflict, showed them in rough sack-like clothes, a rope around their neck. Instead of setting up a traditional pyramidal composition, he placed the six men on the same level. 

His first proposal for a Monument to Victor Hugo in front of the Pantheon was declined because its dimensions did not harmonize with the Monument to Mirabeau by Injalbert, with which it should be paired. In 1890, the committee rejected Rodin´s proposal as lacking “breadth and elevation”.

  Penelope Curtis, Sculpture 1900-1945 – After Rodin, p. 50ff.

Rodin did not want his work to function as a mere decoration of public space, as an extension of architecture, nor as a simple glorification of patriotic virtues. Instead, he was interested in the deeply human reaction of each Burgher to the tragic circumstances that bound them together. The expression of their sorrow is so intense, though, that the Monument to Calais even in present times continues to affect the balance of the public space it is placed in.


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