You don’t have to cross the state, country or sea to study and admire and treasure Rodin’s seductive sculptures. The Saint Louis Art Museum and Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art have castings of his originals on display, and the library, of course, has many books describing and depicting his sensuous works.
“Seductive” and “sensuous” do not characterize his entire oeuvre, but the power of his more famous sculptures—and there are many—derives from their extraordinary naturalism, their unreal realism. Though many of Rodin’s contemporaries and critics accused him of vulgarity, Rodin, according to art critic Peter Schjeldahl, “wrenched figurative sculpture from millennia of tradition and send it tumbling into modernity.” Rodin rejected neoclassicism, the artistic style then in vogue, and in turn, his rejection entailed the so-called art world’s initial rejection of him: three times the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts denied him admission. But these denials freed him, enabled his singularity among sculptors.
Assuming the position of Rodin’s “Saint John the Baptist“—right foot in from the left, as when walking; the torso leaning slightly forward—defies the body because whereas our left heel raises, the figure’s feet remain stubbornly flat. Rodin’s “Adam” unfurls from his many angles: right knee raised, fingers and hands gesturing down to the ground when he came, head resting on his shoulder as if waking from being created. And then there’s his “Monument to Balzac,” a bulky mass of folds draping and dissembling one of France’s historic literary figures. This sculpture’s unveiling in 1898 offended so many that the commission was cancelled.
There’s more to learn about Rodin—his enduring marriage despite his enduring love affair, his remolding of artistic conventions and his opinion of the United States—so here are a few books for further reading (which includes a historical novel):