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Rodin at the Brooklyn Museum: The Body in Bronze

November 17, 2017–April 22, 2018

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Pierre de Wiessant, Monumental Nude, 1886, cast 1983. Cast by Fonderie de Coubertin, Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse. Bronze, 781/4 x 443/4 x 361/2 in. (198.8 x 113.7 x 92.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Gift of the B. Gerald Cantor Collection, 86.310. (Photo: Justin Van Soest)

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Are the Rodin pieces all casts? Are they one of a kind?
That's a very common question as things easily get very murky when it comes to bronze casting. The majority of Rodin's sculptures in bronze are not one of a kind because they are made from a mold which can be and was reused.
Rodin made the models out of clay or other malleable material. The molds were created from these models. The final works are the bronze casts that come from these molds.
Rodin never set a limit on the number of casts that could be made from his molds. In fact, all but one of the works in this exhibition were cast after his death. In 1981, the French government began to pass laws about how many casts could be made and even who could own them.
I'm glad that I'm not alone in asking that question! That all makes sense and now that I watched the film about how a bronze cast is made. It's quite the labor intensive process!
What exactly is "Hand of Rodin With Torso" with torso about?
The mold for this bronze sculpture was created from Auguste Rodin's own hand by one of his assistants. It commemorates the hand of the artist and his role in the creation of his art, like the small torso shown.
A parallel can also be drawn between the hand of Rodin and the hand of God as creator.
Thank you.
You're welcome! The cast of Rodin's hand was actually requested by the man who would later become the first curator of the Rodin Museum in France.
How long did it take to make this?
We don't know exactly how long Rodin spent making the clay model, but we do know that he made multiple studies for each part: the hands, the head, the torso, etc.
After he was done, a studio assistant would make a plaster mold. Then the mold would be filled with wax. This would be sent to a special foundry for the final piece to be cast in bronze using the lost wax technique.
The final bronze would be given a special patina finish. Each step would take several days! There's a video in the last part of the exhibit, if you are interested.
Thank you!
You're welcome! I find it interesting that Rodin chose to smooth out the surface on some pieces, but left others rough and expressive.
Who did Rodin use as his models? People he knew or just from memory?
Rodin did sculpt people he knew personally, including his long-time companion Rose Beuret, whose body was the model for many of Rodin's female figures.
He was also interested in the professionally trained body and hired dancers and athletes to pose in his studio. Sometimes when he wanted to sculpt the portrait of a deceased person, he would try to find a living model that resembled them. For example, when Rodin won the commission to make a monument to Balzac, he traveled to the writer's hometown to find a man that resembled him!
Did he ever do a sculpture of himself?
I know that he drew self portraits of himself. One scholar has argued that one of the sculpted figures for the Gates of Hell is a self-portrait, although I think that is open to debate!
Did Rodin draw a lot too? I usually only see sculptures when I go to Rodin exhibits
He was a prolific draughtsman! He produced over 10,000 drawings. His drawings are rarely exhibited because they are so fragile. Most of them are figurative, like his sculpture.
Ah okay, that makes sense. They are probably really cool. Figurative drawing captures body movement so well.
Who is Cybele?
Cybele is the name of an ancient Greco-Roman mother goddess.
When first exhibited, this work was critiqued for its monumental scale, sketch-like execution, and missing body parts, all elements that are now considered to contribute to its enigmatic quality as well as those that reflect what is characteristic of Rodin's style.
You're welcome. In the beginning of the exhibition you see the kinds of ancient sculpture Rodin collected and was inspired by. These often came to him in fragments and certainly influenced his practice.
Was this left un-cast until 1969. If so where was it and why?
Well, as you may have noticed the label names this as 9th in an edition of 12. The original clay model and plaster cast were made by Rodin in the late 1880s this bronze sculpture wasn't cast until 1969. The models and casts were considered part of his estate and gifted to the French government, later becoming the responsibility of the Musee Rodin in France.
Most of the sculptures in this exhibition were cast after Rodin's death. The right to continue to cast his work is overseen by Musee Rodin, which limits multiple casts of the same work to 12. 1–8 are available for public purchase, while 9-12 are reserved for cultural institutions.
I'm just surprised that the museum waited 50+ years to make the casts.
That is just the date for this ninth cast of only one work. The other eight would have been cast before. Also, think of all the other Rodin works that could've been cast in the interim. He left such a vast body of work behind!
I didn't realize that all 12 were not cast at one time.
 The law, passed in 1981, was applied retroactively and the number of casts made at once seems to be at the discretion of the Musee Rodin.
Regarding the lost wax method, are the cast bronzes solid rather than hollow? That's what the video seemed to imply.
Lost wax can produce both solid and hollow bronzes. Most of Rodin’s works are sand cast, however. Rodin's large sculptures were typically cast hollow, although I believe some of the smaller ones are solid.
Thanks, the video wasn't clear.
We have been getting many questions about Rodin's process. One thing I was interested to learn is how involved Rodin was in selecting the surface patinas for the bronzes.
They all seem to have the same dark patina; I stand corrected:
Yes! There are subtle variations—some have a green cast and others are more golden brown. These were important, as they altered the effect of light over the bronze surface.
This one seems particularly shiny!
I love how Rodin has smoothed and polished the surface to draw attention to the heightened sensuality of this couple who are doomed to never satisfy their love.
He liked the face of Paolo so much that he sold it as a separate sculpture under the title "Head of Sorrow." You can see a small version nearby.
Please tell me more about this work.
This nude version of Pierre de Wiessant of the Burghers of Calais group showcases Rodin's emphasis on gesture and emotion in both bodies and faces.
It also represents an important step in his process. He created these nude versions of the Burghers and then draped fabric over them to create the models for the final versions. He wanted to be sure that it was clear that there was a body underneath the drapery.
You can see the final versions nearby!
I have a very stupid question: what was really going on in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? How did a society produce people like Rodin, Monet and genuinely reboot art? It wasn’t all the Franco-Prussian war, was it?
France, like other European nations, was experiencing enormous changes in the late 19th century; increased industrialization caused major changes to class structures. The Franco-Prussian War did have a devastating impact on the French psyche, which is something that artists like Rodin picked up on in their work.
The war affected the way that the French viewed women. At this time there was the idea that the role of women was to have more French babies, to increase the population and swell the ranks of the army. This is reflected in the heightened sensuality in art depicting women in this period.
That is a great point.
Were the models who could make these poses professional models, athletes, or dancers or did Rodin exaggerate the poses?
For many of his sculptures, Rodin  invited athletic models and professionally trained dancers into his studio to pose for him; he was interested in the expressiveness of the professionally trained body. However, Rodin also liked to manipulate his clay sculptures to exaggerate poses for expressive purposes.
So two real humans actually did this, right?
In this case, it's likely that he had two models pose separately and then fit the two clay models together. He also carved the faces separately as well, based on another model and created a composite.
That's quite typical of Rodin's work. You'll notice that one section of the exhibition is titled, "The Body in Pieces," which explores his process of reusing and reconfiguring existing forms to generate new compositions.
The hands and arms are also a bit out of scale, right?
It seems so, yes. Rodin was of the opinion that a single part of a figure could convey the same meaning as the whole. He often enlarged hands and feet to emphasize a particular emotion—in this case, perhaps longing, desire, and frustration.
So even the expressiveness of one professionally trained body wouldn’t satisfy him, he had to assemble his own version of perfect human body.
Yes, that or what he thought was the perfect combination of attributes, both real and imagined, that most completely portrayed the emotion of the figure, not just their physicality.
This doesn't seem like a typical Rodin.
Great observation. This sculpture, "The Age of Bronze" is very naturalistic and smooth. It shows that Rodin was perfectly capable of sculpting life-like figures—even if he rarely chose to do so. In general, Rodin valued energetic, expressive figures over anatomical correctness. When this work was first shown, critics accused Rodin of casting a model's body because it is so naturalistic!
In fact, what he had done was study a single model over a period of eighteen months, observing his body and even its imperfections with incredible attention to detail. This bronze version is a reduced iteration of the life sized plaster that critics first saw in 1877.
Why is this just the head?
Rodin made studies of heads and hands separate from bodies, in order to focus on expression. These were sometimes cast and sold as unique sculptures.
I feel that this is an exceptionally expressive face. You can see Jean d'Aire drawing his lips in tightly in determination but his eyes betray his fear.
What was Rodin's process for the Balzac commission?
Balzac had died 40 years before Rodin received the commission for the monument. In order to better understand the writer's physical appearance, Rodin went to Balzac’s hometown near Tours and found someone that resembled Balzac to model for him. He produced over 50 clay studies that later were cast in bronze and sold as independent artworks. All of the Balzac works you see here were studies for the final monument.
I love the color and finish.
It is beautiful. If you look closely, you can see that each bronze has a unique patina. I admire the rich color of this sculpture.
Who is it?
This is Jean d'Aire. He was one of the citizens of Calais who volunteered to sacrifice his life to save his city when it was under siege by the English in 1347.
The city of Calais commissioned Rodin to boost morale and patriotism after France was defeated in the Franco Prussian War. Rodin also made a sculpture of the Mayor of Calais, Omer Dewavrin, who helped him to secure the commission. That portrait is on display towards the back of the exhibition.
Is there a connection between Rodin and Michelangelo?
Yes, at the height of his career, Auguste Rodin was regarded as the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo. This was the ultimate compliment to Rodin who revered the work of the great Italian master!
In 1876, Rodin traveled to Italy to study Michelangelo's work. Many of Rodin's subsequent figures display the exaggerated musculature and angular poses for which Michelangelo was known. He once said, "it was Michelangelo who liberated me from academicism.”
Is it correct that Rodin did not cast many of his work?
Yes, in fact Rodin was never involved in that stage of the production. He outsourced all of the bronze casting to foundries outside of his workshop. Rodin worked with several different bronze foundries. In fact, once he was famous, they competed to be the ones to cast his work!
This sculpture of a "Cybele" shows the influence of Michelangelo on Rodin. The woman's twisting and muscular body is very similar to figures that appear on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 
How long would a sculpture like this take to complete?
A final sculpture like this one was the result of a multi-step process. Rodin received the commission for the Burghers of Calais group in 1884 and these final versions are dated to between 1886 and 1888.
Rodin's sculptural process began in clay. First he made a model. Then a mold was made from that model. Lastly, the bronze version was cast from the model. This process was repeated numerous times as Rodin experimented and worked out his design.
As an example, you can see a nude version of this same sculpture near the entrance to the exhibition. The nude was a step in the process. Rodin draped it with actual fabric to figure out how he wanted this final, clothed version to look.