Rodin in the United States: Confronting the Modern
On view through January 15, 2023
Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917) is one of the most celebrated sculptors of the modern age, represented in museums and private collections across the globe. However, this was not always the case.
From his first sculpture to enter an American museum in 1893 and culminating with his popular revival in the 1980s, this exhibition follows Rodin’s rise to eminence in the United States due in large part to the collectors, critics, and curators who helped make it happen.
The more than seventy sculptures and drawings in the exhibition include many of Rodin’s best-known compositions, The Thinker, Monument to Balzac, and The Kiss, as well as less-familiar subjects and an exceptional number of his expressive and probing drawings. The exhibition shows Rodin working across an array of media—from terracotta and plaster to bronze and marble—and illuminates his creative process, from studies and maquettes to completed works. Rodin in the United States also reveals Rodin’s incredible daring and inventiveness as he continually pushed against and beyond traditional notions of sculpture.
This exhibition is organized by the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Katherine Seney Simpson (Mrs. John W. Simpson), 1903Katherine Seney Simpson (Mrs. John W. Simpson), 1903
Katherine Seney Simpson (Mrs. John W. Simpson), 1903
National Gallery of Art, Washington, gift of Mrs. John W. Simpson, 1942.5.16
Katherine Seney Simpson was one of Rodin’s most important advocates in the United States. Simpson was based in New York but often traveled to France. She posed for this bust more than sixty times. Commissioned in 1902, the portrait marked the beginning of a close friendship.
Arthur Jerome Eddy, 1898Arthur Jerome Eddy, 1898
Arthur Jerome Eddy, 1898
Art Institute of Chicago, Arthur Jerome Eddy Memorial Collection, 1931.502
Philanthropist and art collector Arthur Jerome Eddy commissioned this portrait after seeing Rodin’s sculptures on view at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. This is the first portrait of an American commissioned from Rodin.
Bust of St. John the Baptist, original model 1880, cast 1883Bust of St. John the Baptist, original model 1880, cast 1883
Bust of St. John the Baptist, original model 1880, cast 1883
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of Samuel P. Avery, 1893, 93.11
Rodin exhibited an over-life-size figure of St. John the Baptist in plaster at the Paris Salon of 1880. Critics were alarmed at the brazen conviction Rodin gave to the representation of the man who proclaimed the coming of Jesus Christ. This bust was derived from the larger work, and it was the first Rodin sculpture to enter a public museum in the United States. This cast reveals the raw emotion Rodin achieved in his early bronzes, and the patina—the surface coloring—emphasizes the saint’s features.
Study for St. John the Baptist, today known as The Small Walking Man, assembled ca. 1899, cast 1903Study for St. John the Baptist, today known as The Small Walking Man, assembled ca. 1899, cast 1903
Study for St. John the Baptist, today known as The Small Walking Man, assembled ca. 1899, cast 1903
National Gallery of Art, Washington, gift of Mrs. John W. Simpson, 1942.5.11
To create this figure, Rodin combined elements he found in his studio: a damaged clay torso and a pair of legs that he had modeled two decades earlier in preparation for a life-size sculpture of St. John the Baptist. This was one of the first Rodin sculptures acquired by American collectors, John and Katherine Simpson, and demonstrates how deeply they understood his work. They appreciated partial figures as finished works of art.
Rodin later enlarged this figure, which earned the new title The Walking Man when exhibited in 1907. Both versions attest to the popularity of this subject with American collectors and museums.
Young Woman Kneeling, original model late nineteenth–early twentieth centuryYoung Woman Kneeling, original model late nineteenth–early twentieth century
Young Woman Kneeling, original model late nineteenth–early twentieth century
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of Auguste Rodin, 1912, 12.12.3
Study of a Hand, original model late nineteenth–early twentieth centuryStudy of a Hand, original model late nineteenth–early twentieth century
Study of a Hand, original model late nineteenth–early twentieth century
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of Auguste Rodin, 1912, 12.12.16
The Hand of God, original model 1895, carved ca. 1907The Hand of God, original model 1895, carved ca. 1907
The Hand of God, original model 1895, carved ca. 1907
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of Edward D. Adams, 1908, 08.210
Rodin began his sculptures by modeling clay or wax or by working directly in plaster to create a three-dimensional work. Assistants then used the clay model to produce a mold, which would then be cast in plaster. Rodin could produce multiples in this inexpensive medium and even cut the plaster apart, recombining hands, legs, torsos, and heads to alter a composition and form a completely new work.
In this work, Rodin equates God the creator with the sculptor. God’s hand cradles the partially modeled figures of Adam and Eve, the first human pair in the Hebrew Bible, as they emerge from rough stone. Their entwined forms suggest intimacy and dependence—both on each other and on the hand that made them.
Rodin repurposed the right hand of one of the Burghers of Calais for God’s hand and first exhibited a plaster of the new composition in 1896. Marbles and bronzes of different sizes followed. Versions in plaster and bronze are on view within the exhibition, revealing the appeal of this subject to American collectors.
Honoré de Balzac, 1891Honoré de Balzac, 1891
Honoré de Balzac, 1891
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1912, 12.11.1
This head is perhaps the first study for Rodin’s monument to the novelist Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850). Before receiving the commission, Rodin researched the author by reading his novels and traveling to the province of Touraine, Balzac’s birthplace. In Tours, Rodin found a cart driver, known as Estager, who looked like the long-dead writer. Estager modeled for this work in the fall of 1891.
Although Rodin used a different head for the final full-size sculpture, this terracotta was an important initial step. The holes in it are not accidental—they allowed steam to escape while the clay hardened in a kiln.
“The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire, and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.”
Collection Highlight: Eternal Spring
Rodin in the United States: Confronting the Modern is organized by the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
This exhibition is made possible by
Funding from Troutman Pepper
Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor
Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
ACT Foundation, Inc.
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot
Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters
Robin and Hilton Howell
Ambassador Exhibition Supporters
The Antinori Foundation
The Arthur R. and Ruth D. Lautz Charitable Foundation
Elizabeth and Chris Willett
Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters
Farideh and Al Azadi
Sandra and Dan Baldwin
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust
Mr. and Mrs. Robin E. Delmer
Marcia and John Donnell
Mrs. Peggy Foreman
Helen C. Griffith
Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Dr. Joe B. Massey
Margot and Danny McCaul
Wade A. Rakes II and Nicholas Miller
The Fred and Rita Richman Fund
USI Insurance Services
Mrs. Harriet H. Warren
Generous support is also provided by
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.