What are the figures as you walk in meant to be?
They are titled "The Burghers of Calais" and were made by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. They depict an episode from the Hundred Years' War between France and England. In 1347, after the city of Calais had been under siege for eleven months, six prominent citizens offered their lives to the English king, Edward III, in return for his promise to spare the city. Upon hearing of their bravery, the English Queen Philippa interceded and obtained their release.
In 1884, Rodin was commissioned by the city of Calais to produce a monument honoring the six burghers. Rodin rejected the established conventions of public sculpture and portrayed the men not as glorious heroes, but as troubled and isolated individuals brought together by their anguish and common purpose.
How did Rodin make these sculptures?
Rodin used the "sand casting" method. He would have created his intended form in clay, then built a mould around it using a mixture of special sand, salt, and a binding agent. When the mould was ready, he would remove the clay from the center and then pour liquid bronze into the mould. Unlike other bronze casting techniques available at the time, sand casting allows for the creation of multiples.
Why do you have so many Rodin sculptures?
We received many of the Rodin works currently on view as a gift from the Cantor Foundation in 1980s. The Cantor Foundation is interested creating opportunities to further explore the works of Rodin and his contemporaries.
Was Rodin interested in contemporary politics when he did these sculptures?
Rodin created the Burghers of Calais as part of a public commission. In 1884, the city of Calais asked for submissions for a monument to honor the Burghers, who lived in the 14th century. Rodin won the commission in 1885, which lead to these statues (three in their final form, and one study on view today). The commission itself was part of a wider political movement by the French government to boost patriotic feeling across the country, following the disastrous aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the related uprising of the so-called Paris Commune.
Tell me more.
This statue was designed by a famous artist named Auguste Rodin. The man in the statue was named Pierre de Wiessant, and was a hero to the French city of Calais. He was one of six famed citizens of Calais, known as the Burghers of Calais, who, in 1347, volunteered to sacrifice themselves to save their city during the Hundred Years War with England. The queen of England at the time believed that the actions of the Burghers of Calais were so brave that she saved their lives and saved the city. In 1887, people of Calais asked Rodin to make statues of the six heroes.
Why is he like that?
These sculptures depict an episode from the Hundred Years' War between France and England. The city of Calais had been under siege for 11 months when 6 prominent citizens offered their lives to the English King in return for his promise to spare the city.
This is one of the citizens, Pierre de Wiessant. They are collectively known as the Burghers of Calais. In depicting them, Rodin rejected the established convention of public sculpture and portrayed the men as troubled isolated individuals, brought together by grief. In the moment Rodin has captured, the men have not yet learned they will be spared and are instead shown coping with their tragic heroism.
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.
Do you know what the rope symbolizes?
The rope is a symbol of their surrender. They were marched out of the city barefoot and wearing rags with ropes connecting them around their necks.
Why do all the men look like they're in pain?
The Burghers of Calais were citizens of the French city of Calais who offered their lives to the English King to save their city during the Hundred Years War between England and France. Ultimately, their lives were spared, but Rodin chose to depict them before they learned that news. These men are contemplating what they thought was imminent death.
The Burghers of Calais usually consist of 6 full sized individuals. Why has the museum 3? Were they bought as individuals?
The museum acquired all of these burghers of Calais from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation in 1983. I can look further into how they acquired the pieces, though I can say for certain that the Burghers need not be purchased as a set.
Rodin would cast his sculptures over and over in different iterations and recombinations. We have three final versions of the Burgers of Calais, and one nude version of Pierre de Weissent.
Thanks. I've learnt something today.
I'm glad! Right before his death Rodin willed his estate to the French Government. They enforced restrictions on the number of sculptures that could posthumously be produced of any of Rodin's works, setting the number 12 as distinct: Eight of the twelve casts produced at any of these post-death castings are available to the public to purchase and are numbered 1 through 8; the other four, numbered I through IV, are reserved for cultural institutions. So individual sculptures have been available for purchase.
Can you tell me more about the Franco-Prussian War?
The Franco-Prussian War was a conflict between the Second French Empire of Napoleon III and the German states of the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia.
The conflict was caused by Prussian desire to extend German unification and French fear of the shift in the European balance of power should the Prussians succeed.
How does one mold or shape bronze? It’s a metal right? So is a heated torch used? Or do you chisel it?
Bronze is actually cast! First you need to sculpt the work out of another material, in Rodin's case clay, and then make a mold into which molten bronze can be poured. Once the molten bronze is cool, you're left with a bronze version of the piece.
Why are Rodin's sculptures arranged in a line rather than a group?
While the Burghers of Calais are most often seen grouped together and even sharing a single base, these separated versions give us a special opportunity to walk around each sculpture separately.
You may have noticed that one of these figures is nude. That’s a preparatory version of Pierre de Wiessant who also appears in our gallery draped in fabric.