Rodin Works: the Age of Bronze (The Conquered One, The Vanquished)

In 1875, when the major decoration projects in Brussels were nearing completion, Rodin started the work on a life-size male nude after studies of a 22 years old Belgian soldier named Auguste Neyt. He titled it 'The Vanquished' and intended to submit it to the Salon. After more than 20 years of apprenticeship and anonymity, he hoped to overcome his status as a mere handworker and establish himself as a statuaire. Albert Elsen draws attention to the conservatism of Rodin's aspirations: whereas the word 'sculpture' is associated with the free-handed creations of Modernism, 'statues' were life-size standing figures, created with the intention to have them purchased and displayed by the state. But exactly this denomiation was denied to Rodin's first attempt: "The work of M. Rodin is a study, rather than a statue...", wrote the art critic Tardieu in the magazine Art, in 1877.

Michelangelo's 'Dying Slave'  or 'Bound slave' (1514-16, marble, 90" high). Photo. ArtchiveRodin worked on the nude for 18 months. The progress of the work was interrupted by a trip to Italy in February and March 1876 where Rodin admired the work of Michelangelo in a burst of enthusiasm. When he returned to Brussels, he finished the sculpture and presented it at the Cercle Artistique. 

Evidently, the pose was inspired by Michelangelo's 'Dying Slave' (1514-16, marble, 90" high). Like Michelangelo's work, Rodin's composition shows a console shape with bent knees and a hollow chest, transmitting a certain expression of unsureness, not to say effeminacy. This impression of temptativeness was augmented by Rodin's decision to have the spear removed from the character's left hand when his work was exhibited in Brussels in January 1877. Originally, the model had been keeping a wooden staff in order to keep his pose for an extended period of time. But Rodin felt that this attribute interfered with the proper view of his modelling, so that 'The Vanquished' was displayed with his left arm suspended in the air. This not only added to the suggestion of indecisiveness, but also deprived the sculpture of its proposed subject matter of warfare. 

Rodin's presentation provoked consternation at the Cercle Artistique. Rodin later defended his decision by stating he rather had wanted to portray a psychological state instead of a literary anecdote:

"We notice that his sculpture expresses the painful withdrawal of the being into himself, restless energy, the will to act without hope of success, and finally the martyrdom of the creature who is tormented by his unrealisable aspirations."

The musculature of this nude was modeled in a plain naturalistic style without excessive hollows and projections. "What he wanted was a natural attitude, as realistic as life", remembered Neyt. But in the press, the work was not only ridiculed for its vagueness of subject: incredulous critics accused Rodin of having used plaster casts from life - a method thought not worthy of an artist. In L'Etoile Belge of 29 Jan. 1877, an anonymous author wrote:

Auguste Neyt photograph by Gaudenzio Marco, 1877 The Age of Bronze in the Hermitage, plaster

"We do not need to examine here whether this plaster was modelled directly on the living model. We simply wish to point out that the physical and moral dejection of this figure is rendered so expressively that without any indication other than the work itself, it seems as if the artist wanted to represent a man on the point of committing suicide." 

The persistent artist submitted his work to the 1877  Paris Salon, again without the lance, this time under the title 'The Age of Bronze', only to learn the rumours from Belgium had followed him. In Spring 1877, an utterly frustrated Rodin wrote to Rose:

"As you can imagine, I am extremely upset being so near to my goal! My figure was considered to be so fine by everyone, and now they insist on saying it was modelled from life [...] . I am demoralized, I am exhausted, I am short of money, I must look for a studio [...]."

Rodin addressed the chairman of the jury, Eugène Guillaume, director of the École des Beaux-Arts, for a chance to clear his reputation:

"Owing to these terrible doubts raised by the jury, I find myself robbed of the fruits of my labors. Contrary to what people think I did not cast my figure from the model but spent a year and a half on it; during that time my model came to the studio almost constantly. Moreover I have spent my savings working on my figure, which I had hoped would be as much of a success in Paris as it was in Belgium since the modeling seems good - it is only the procedure that has been attacked. How painful it is to find that my figure can be of no help to my future; how painful to see it rejected on account of a slanderous suspicion!"

His Belgian friends Félix Bouré and Gustave Biot contributed testimonies that they had watched Rodin work on his figure only from the living model. The artist also had photos made of Auguste Neyt and his sculpture, to demonstrate that the accusations raised in the Étoile Belge were false, but his evidence was completely ignored by the jury. As these pictures show, Rodin made the legs and lower torso of his figure slimmer than the features of the model; he also made the head somewhat smaller.

To Gsell, Rodin himself later explained the difference between a surmoulage, a life plaster cast of the model, and his own approach as follows: 

"Nevertheless,", I [=Paul Gsell] answered with some malice, "it is not nature exactly as it is that you evoke in your work." (...) 
"But after all, the proof that you do change it is this, that the cast would not give at all the same impression as your work."
He reflected an instant and said. "That is so! Because the cast is less true than my sculpture!
"It would be impossible for any model to keep an animated pose during all the time that it would take to make  a cast from it. But I keep in my mind the ensemble of the pose and I insist that the model shall conform to my memory of it. More than that, - the cast only reproduces the exterior; I reproduce, besides that, the spirit which is certainly also a part of nature.
"I see all the truth, and not only that of the outside.
"I accentuate the lines which best express the spiritual state that I interpret.
As he spoke he showed me on a pedestal nearby one of his most beautiful statues, a young man kneeling, raising suppliant arms to heaven. All his being is drawn out with anguish. His body is thrown backwards. The breast heaves, the throat is tense with despair, and the hands are thrown out towards some mysterious being to which they long to cling.
"Look!" he said to me; "I have accented the swelling of the muscles which express distress. Here, here, there - I have exaggerated the straining of the tendons which indicate the outburst of prayer."
And, with a gesture, he underlined the most vigorous parts of his work.
"I have you, Master!" I cried ironically; "You say yourself that you have accented, accentuated, exaggerated. You see, then, that you have changed nature."
He began to laugh at my obstinancy.
"No," he replied. "I have not changed it. Or, rather, if I have done it, it was without suspecting it at the time. The feeling which influenced my vision showed me Nature as I have copied her.

  Paul Gsell, Rodin on Art and Artistst, Dover Publications, New York, p. 11

As long as he was haunted by the rumour of surmoulage, the road was not cleared for Rodin's career as an artist sculptor. On 11 January 1880, Rodin had an interview with Turquet, State Undersecretary  for Fine Arts, who wanted to commission a bronze cast of 'The Age of Bronze', but needed an expertise contradicting the accusations raised in Belgium. A commission headed by deputy inspector Roger Ballu, however, did not believe Rodin had been able to model the work without surmoulage:

"This examination had convinced us that if this statue is not a life cast in the absolute sense of the word, casting from life early plays so prponderant a part in it that it cannot really be regarded as a work of art.."

Together with Turquet's protégé, Maurice Haquette, Rodin prepared a testimony, dated 23 February 1880, signed by the best-known sculptors of that time, confirming Rodin's outstanding abilities. After this intervention, 'St. John the Baptist Preaching' and 'The Age of Bronze' are shown in the Salon; the latter won a third-class medal and was finally purchased by the state. In August 1880, it won a gold medal in Ghent. 

'The Age of Bronze' by now is a very widespread Rodin work. It was realized in large, medium and small versions. The first bronze cast was made by Thiébaut Frères. Allegedly, over 150 bronze casts have been produced by the Rudier Foundry later. The Fine art Museum of Budapest owns a rare pappmaché version, which was authorised by Rodin.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (supplied by The National Gallery of Art, Washington):

"Chronique de la Ville." L'Etoile belge (29 January and 3 February 1877). 
Rousseau, Jean. "Revue des Arts." Echo du Parlement (11 April 1877). 
Tardieu, Charles. "Le Salon de Paris--1877--La Sculpture." L'Art 3 (1877): 108. 
Timbal, Charles. "La Sculpture au Salon." Gazette des Beaux-Arts (16 July 1877): 42-43. 
Bartlett, Truman H. "Auguste Rodin, Sculptor." American Architect andBuilding News (19 January-15 June 1889): 65, 99-100, 283-284. 
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Auguste Rodin. Trans. in G. Craig Houston, Rodin and Other Prose Pieces. London, 1986: 15-16. 
Neyt, Auguste. Grand Artistique (April 1922). 
Cladel, Judith. Rodin: sa vie glorieuse, sa vie inconnue. Paris, 1936: 108, 114-121. 
Grappe, Georges. Catalogue du Musée Rodin. 5th ed. Paris, 1944: 15-16. 
Waldemann, Emil. Auguste Rodin. Vienna, 1945: 22, 73. 
Seymour, Charles. Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1949: 184, note 56, repro. 168. 
Alley, Ronald. Tate Gallery Catalogues. The Foreign Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture. London, 1959: 210-211. 
Elsen, Albert E. Rodin. New York, 1963: 20-26. 
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 168. 
Descharnes, Robert, and Jean-François Chabrun. Auguste Rodin. Lausanne, 1967: 52-54. 
Spear, Athena Tacha. Rodin Sculpture in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, 1967: 39-40, 94-95. 
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 148, repro. 
Tancock, John. The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin. Philadelphia, 1976: 342-356. 
de Caso, Jacques, and Patricia B. Sanders. Rodin's Sculpture: A Critical Study of the Spreckels Collection. San Francisco, 1977: 38-47. 
Butler, Ruth. "Nationalism, a New Seriousness, and Rodin: Thoughts about French Sculpture in the 1870s." In H.W. Janson, ed. La Sculptura nel XIX Secolo. Bologna, 1979: 161-167. 
Butler, Ruth. Rodin in Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980: 32-35. 
Elsen, Albert E. In Rodin's Studio. Ithaca, New York, 1980: 157-158, pls. 2-5. 
Butler, Ruth. "Rodin and the Paris Salon." In Rodin Rediscovered. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1981: 33-34. 
Vincent, Clare. "Rodin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: A History of the Collection." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (Spring 1981): 24. 
Schmoll, J.A. Rodin--Studien: Persönlichkeit--Werke--Wirkung--Bibliographie. Munich, 1983: 53-56. 
Grunfeld, Frederic V. Rodin: A Biography. New York, 1987: 98-106, 113-114, 125-129. 
Ambrosini, Lynne, and Michelle Facos. Rodin: The Cantor Gift to the Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, 1987: 56-58. 
Fonsmark, Anne-Birgitte. Rodin: La collection du Brasseur Carl Jacobsen à la Glyptothèque. Copenhagen, 1988: 67-69. 
Goldscheider, Cécile. Auguste Rodin: catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre sculpté. Lausanne, 1989: 114-116. 
Butler, Ruth. Rodin. The Shape of Genius. New Haven and London, 1993: 99-112. 
Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 199, repro. 
Kausch, Michael. Auguste Rodin: Eros und Leidenschaft. Exh. cat. Harrach Palace, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, 1996: 252-254. 
Le Normand-Romain, Antoinette. Vers l'Age d'airain: Rodin en Belgique. Paris, 1997: 246-319. 
Porter, John R., and Yves Lacasse. Rodin à Québec. Quebec, 1998: 58-59. 
Butler, Ruth, and Suzanne Glover Lindsay, with Alison Luchs, Douglas Lewis, Cynthia J. Mills, and Jeffrey Weidman. European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 315-317, color repro. 



Advanced Search and Search Rules

Advanced Search & Search Rules

Terms of Use  Copyright Policy    Menu missing?  Back one page  Reload this page   Top of this page 

Notice: Museum logos appear only as buttons linking to Museum Websites and do not imply any
formal approval of RODIN-WEB pages by these institutions. For details see Copyright Policy.
© Copyright 1992 - Juni 2004 for data collection & design by Hans de Roos - All Rights Reserved.
Last update of this page: 11.06.2004