Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
'The Prodigal Son'
Height 138 cm
Inscribed 'A. Rodin' on the upper surface of the base and 'Alexis Rudier/Fondeur Paris' on the back of the base
Museum no. A.34-1914
Given by the artist
In 1880 Rodin was asked to design a bronze portal and doors for the new Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris. The project became known as The Gates of Hell and occupied Rodin for much of his life. Although the commission was never completed, many of its ideas were developed as separate sculptures.
The Prodigal Son, with its many versions, is an example of Rodin's reuse and adaptation of favourite themes and compositions. It is derived from a figure originally planned low down on the right-hand panel of the doors, (see image below left) where it was combined with a fleeing female figure for the group called Fugit Amor (Love Flees). Rodin explained that it expressed psychological tension and distress: 'I have accented the swelling of the muscles to express distress… I have exaggerated the straining of the tendons which indicates the outbreak of prayer.'
It was first exhibited in 1894 in the Salon de la Plume as a single free-standing figure, with the title The Child of the Age.
Design for The Gates of Hell, c.1880. The figures here are in similar poses to that used in The Prodigal Son.