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Auguste Rodin: the father of modern sculpture
A guide to the life and career of the 19th- and early 20th-century French sculptor who revolutionised the medium, creating some of the best-known — and best-loved — sculptures of our time

The father of modern sculpture was largely self-taught

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) is renowned for breathing life into clay, creating naturalistic, often vigorously modelled sculptures which convey intense human emotions: love, ecstasy, agony or grief. Breaking the rules of academic convention and classical idealism, Rodin ushered in a new form of highly expressive sculpture that went on to influence generations of artists that followed.

Born in Paris on 12 November 1840, just two days before Claude Monet, Rodin displayed a precocious artistic talent from an early age. Aged 14, he was enrolled in the École Impériale Spéciale de Dessin et Mathématiques in Paris, known as the ‘Petite École’, though later he failed three times to enter the hallowed École des Beaux-Arts, instead forging his career as a largely self-taught artist.

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Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Méditation, petit modèle, version type I, conceived by 1887; this bronze cast in 1943 in an edition of 13. Bronze with green patina. Height 74 cm. Estimate: €400,000-600,000. Offered in Art Impressionniste et Moderne on 4 June 2020 at Christie’s in Paris

Before becoming a sculptor, Auguste Rodin briefly became a monk

In 1862 the failure of repeated artistic rejection, as well as the grief he felt over the death of his sister, led Rodin to leave art and join the Catholic church, adopting the name Brother Augustin in the Order of the Blessed Sacrament.

While there, the Order’s founder quickly recognised the young artist’s calling and encouraged Rodin to return to his true passion: sculpture.

On a trip to Italy, Rodin fell under the spell of Michelangelo

Rodin travelled to Italy in 1875, a trip described by the late art historian Kirk Varnedoe as, ‘one of the seminal events in modern art’.

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