Biography of Auguste Rodin
François-Auguste-René Rodin (1840–1917) was a French sculptor, considered by many to be the first 'modern' sculptor. He was famous not only for his work, but also for his private life, embarking on a number of romantic relationships. In 1914 he gifted a collection of his sculptures to the V&A in honour of British and French soldiers fighting side by side during World War I (1914–18).
Rodin's fame as a sculptor and the notoriety of his personal life have frequently been described and analysed in the vast body of literature that exists. It is not so surprising, perhaps, that an artist whose life work was making sculpture of the human body should also be passionate about it in his personal life.
The furore caused by his first major figure, 'The Age of Bronze'; the scandal surrounding his habit of taking many mistresses throughout his long relationship with Rose Beuret; his marriage to Rose only two weeks before her death and nine months before his own; his struggles with the art establishment; the rejection of his proposals for commissioned monuments; the enormous international fame he achieved after his 1900 exhibition - all are inextricably linked.
The Grosvenor House exhibition
In July 1914 there was an important exhibition of contemporary French Art (Art Français: Exposition d'art décoratif contemporain 1800-1855) at Grosvenor House in Park Lane, London. Its aim was to show France's more intellectual approach to contemporary art, in contrast to the more conventional art of that date. Rodin was the only sculptor invited to exhibit alongside major Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters such as Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Cézanne. There was a large room devoted entirely to his work, and he selected the sculptures himself to represent the range and significance of his output.
Rodin's gift to the V&A
In November 1914, Auguste Rodin gave 18 of his sculptures to the V&A in honour of the French and British soldiers killed in the war. Most of the works were bronzes, but there was also one marble and one terracotta. This group of works is unique in public collections, having been personally selected and given by Rodin himself. He described it as a collection he had been making all his life. For us it provides an accurate retrospective view of the major achievements of his sculptural output.
On the 11th of November 1914 The Times newspaper wrote:
'The gift of sculpture which M. Rodin has made to the British Nation is a piece of generosity without parallel. Others have given precious collection of works to art to England and other nations, but this gift is all the work of the man who bestows it, and it is the work of the greatest artist living in the world. Further, he gives it as a sign of brotherhood between his people and ours, and as a token of his admiration of our soldiers. Coming as it does at this momentous crisis in the history of Europe, it will be remembered through future ages as a monument of that crisis, and of that brotherhood which M. Rodin wishes to commemorate. There are very few artists in the whole history of art who could make a gift worthy of such an occasion, but M. Rodin is one of them - one with Michelangelo and Donatello, and with the earlier masters of Greece.'
The display was heralded in the Museum by the following notice:
PRESENTED THESE SCULPTURES
TO THE VICTORIA AND ALBERT
MUSEUM IN NOVEMBER MCMXIV
HONOURING BY A NOBLE GIFT
THE SOLDIERS OF GREAT BRITAIN
WHO AT THAT TIME IN FRANCE
BESIDE HIS OWN COUNTRY-MEN
GALLANTLY FOUGHT AND DIED
The same year Rodin, along with other leading artists, wrote publicly in protest about the destruction of art and architecture caused by the war. He also recorded that he thought his gift to the Museum and the British nation was good work for the cause of art in general and for France.