This amazing artist did not have an easy start to life. He was shy and terribly near sighted which was a real handicap for him academically. At the age of ten, he had his very first drawing lesson as he had shown a great interest in this during his early childhood. He was sent to an uncle’s boarding school, the reason for this was that his father thought he might benefit from the academic advantage it would give him and he remained ensconced there for three years. However, he still continued to have trouble with reading and writing. Time was marching on and with him coming to an age when he needed to learn a trade, his family worried about his future.
Rodin threw himself into his drawing and enrolled into a government school for craft and design called the École Impériale de Dessin which was also known as the ‘small school’ as it was not as grand as the École des Beaux-Arts. He constantly visited museums where he took an enormous interest in antique sculptures. He also went to the Gobelins tapestry factory where he studied other aspects of drawing. It was in these early years that Rodin discovered he was very talented working with clay and showed the first signs of being an extraordinarily gifted sculpture.
To his dismay he would not be accepted into the École des Beaux-Arts, even though he had been awarded prizes for his works at the age of seventeen. He applied to this prestigious art school three times but was rejected on each occasion.
Eventually Rodin went to Paris where he worked for various employers creating sculptures. He needed to help support his family and this was a way of doing just that. At this time Paris was undergoing a big transformation with large projects being created to erect statues and sculptures throughout the city. There were plenty of artists workshops who needed labourers to work for them. Rodin worked for them by day but at night his own artistic talents came to life.
In 1862 Rodin’s sister suddenly passed away hitting him very hard. He joined a Catholic order but it soon became apparent that a monastic life was not for Rodin. It was Father Eymard, the founder of the order who encouraged him to draw and sculpt to try to help him get over the grief he felt at his sisters death. The Father succeeded and Rodin left the order to return to his life as an artist.
Rodin continued to work and produce many sculptures during the following years but much to his chagrin his work was never accepted by the Paris Salon,. It was at this period of his life that he met his long time partner and mistress, Rose Beuret. Rose gave birth to a son that Rodin never legally acknowledged as his. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, he was drafted into the National Guard but his near sightedness meant that he was soon discharged where upon he went to work for a commercial sculpture of some renown. Rodin worked for Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse on and off for several years.
During the years Rodin worked for Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, he was given the chance to go to work in Brussels where his employer had been commissioned to decorate the new building of the Stock Exchange. Rodin went but without Rose. He remained in Belgium for six years and it was here in the capital that he held his first ever exhibition of his works. It was the beginning of his career as a sculpture.
He travelled to Italy in 1875 and on his return to Brussels started to sculpt a large statue that he hoped he would be able to submit to the Paris Salon. This life sized nude statue was shown in Brussels where critics were convinced that he had cast it on a live model and not sculpted it at all. Rodin had to defend himself but to no avail and the rumours of this followed him to Paris when he took his statue to exhibit at the Paris Salon of 1877. The statue was admired for its beauty but no one would believe that he had sculpted it and Rodin was made to defend himself yet again. The statue was called The Age of Bronze although he had first called it The Vanquished.
Rodin continued to work in Paris and for Carrier-Belleuse amongst other employers. It was at this time he created the wonderful figure of Saint John the Baptist. He made the figure larger than life to ensure he would not be accused of casting it from a live model again. It was exhibited along with The Age of Bronze in 1880. However, his depiction of Saint John was not met with approval from the critics.
Rodin overcame the critisim and won a commission from the French Ministry of Fine Arts. This was to create the entrance portal of the museum of decorative arts which was to built in the capital. It was during this period of his life that he gained notoriety with his work becoming very much in demand. He employed people to help him and it was also at this time that he first met Camille Claudel. She was soon to become his student as well as his model, collaborator and mistress, although Rodin still had feelings for Rose Beuret, his heart was won over by Camille. However, he would not desert Rose and refused to sever his ties to her. Rodin created many sculptures of Camille including the know very famous work, The Kiss.
Rodin reached the pinnacle of success by 1900 with European nobility paying him the greatest tribute at the Paris World Exhibition where 168 works were on display. The exhibition drew crowds from all over the world giving Rodin International recognition. Rodins works were to appear in distant lands like Japan as well as Canada and most cities in between after this exhibition.
Rodins last battle was to save the house he lived in from demolition. In 1912 the Hotel Biron was scheduled to be pulled down. Rodin offered to give the government his entire estate and in return he would be able to stay living and working there. The other condition was that the house should become a museum for his works after he had passed away. The state agreed and Rodin stayed here right up until his death. In 1917 Rodin finally married Rose Beuret. She died three weeks after the marriage and Rodin passed away a few months later on November 17th 1917.