For Students

Past Exhibitions: 2003

Auguste Rodin: The Cantor Collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art

May 3–August 24, 2003
West, Box, and Twentieth Century Galleries

Auguste Rodin, French, 1840Int1917, The Age of Bronze

The Age of Bronze
Brooklyn Museum of Art
Gift of B. Gerald Cantor

Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), the towering sculptor of the nineteenth century and arguably the most important sculptor since Michelangelo, is the subject of an important exhibition at the Museum of Art this spring and summer. The work of this highly inventive and visionary sculptor straddles the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; it epitomizes many aspects of sculpture of the nineteenth century, yet is marked by innovations whose influence extended far into the The Helmet Maker's Wife 1880s, cast 1969 Bronze. Gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, 86.87.2twentieth. Early in his career Rodin’s work was highly decorative and commercial and a number of his sculptures carried the name of his teacher at the time and not his own. However, through his restless imagination he created sculptures that would, in his mature pieces, far surpass any other sculptural work produced during his lifetime. At the time of his death in 1917, Rodin was the most famous artist in France, and his public monuments occupied important locations throughout central Paris. His stature as a creative force in France was so great that the year before his death he gave the contents of his studio—comprising thousands of works—to the French nation with the understanding that the government would dedicate a museum to honor his contributions. The site selected, the magnificent eighteenth century Hôtel Biron, where Rodin had briefly lived earlier in his life, is now the site of the most comprehensive collection of his work. Rodin’s studio in the Paris suburb of Meudon was also made into a museum dedicated to his sculpture.

What made Rodin such an exceptional artist was the degree to which he could both honor and accept the canons of traditional figural representation—and how he could also completely violate and transform those norms into dynamic new figural inventions. A famous example of the former impulse is his early work The Age of Bronze (1876). The sculpture reflects a deep commitment to observation from nature as well as knowledge of antique sculpture, particularly that of Greece. Monumental Bust of Victor Hugo, Probably 1901-2, cast 1970 Bronze. Gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, 84.210.3While he was working on the figure Rodin made a pilgrimage to Italy to study the works of Michelangelo at firsthand. The Age of Bronze is a superb synthesis of all of these influences and interests apparent in Rodin’s work. When the life-size version was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1877, however, it was considered so naturalistically accurate that he was accused not of modeling the work in clay, but of taking a cast from the living model, a Belgian soldier. This charge he vehemently denied, and period photographs of the soldier in the same pose show where Rodin departed in his modeling from slavish replication. During his work of the next several decades, Rodin began to take liberties with the depiction of the body that sometimes rendered the human form as all but unrecognizable fragments. Characterized by a dense working of surface forms and volumes, he no longer felt that the body needed to be depicted whole and complete. There were instances when just a fragment—a hand, a torso, perhaps a foot—were sufficient to convey the ideas and emotions he sought. He could scrap a figure that displeased him, but retain a head or other part that he could incorporate into a later work. This freedom to recombine figural parts in new combinations underlies many of his greatest works, including The Burghers of Calais and many of the smaller compositions that comprise the stunning The Gates of Hell. Smaller compositions from the The Gates of Hell, such as the Torso of Ugolino’s Son, Paolo and Francesca, and Glaucus each exhibit portions that were borrowed from (or are shared with) other groupings on the Gates. In a massive undertaking such as The Gates of Hell, Rodin mastered the visual vocabulary of misery, desperation, and anguish much as did the carvers of medieval cathedral doorways with their depictions of The Last Judgement.

Carole McNamara
Assistant Director for Collections and Exhibitions

In celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, this exhibition has been organized by the Brooklyn Museum of Art from the collection donated by Iris and B. Gerald Cantor and their Foundation.

The Ann Arbor presentation of this exhibition is made possible by Pfizer Global Research & Development.

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Additional support has been provided by Thomas H. and Polly W. Bredt, the Doris Sloan Memorial Fund, the Katherine Tuck Enrichment Fund, and Carol and Jeff Whitehead.


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