Auguste Rodin



Not on display

Auguste Rodin 1840–1917
Bronze on marble base
Object: 545 × 355 × 232 mm, 14.2 kg
Presented in memory of Lady Sadler by Sir Michael Sadler through the Art Fund 1931

Display caption

In 1891 Auguste Rodin was commissioned to make a commemorative statue of the famous French novelist Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). With great thoroughness Rodin studied all existing portraits of Balzac, read all the books about him and paid several visits to Touraine, the area where the writer was born, to study local physiognomy. This head is part of a full length study. Rodin said he wished to show the writer ‘as if I had lived with him for years’, and modelled an image of him ‘in his study, breathless, hair in disorder, eyes lost in a dream’.

Auguste Rodin was born in Paris in 1840 and died in Meudon in 1917.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

Auguste Rodin 1840-1917

N04589 Balzac 1892

Inscribed 'A. Rodin' on back of l. shoulder, 'Alexis. RUDIER. | Fondeur. PARIS.' on back of r. shoulder, and 'A. Rodin' again on the under-side
Bronze, 12 1/4 x 13 1/2 x 9 (31 x 34.3 x 23) on a marble base
Presented by Sir Michael Sadler in memory of Lady Sadler through the NACF 1931
Prov: Sir Michael Sadler, Oxford
Exh: Rodin, Arts Council touring exhibition, November 1966-December 1967 (20); Rodin: Sculpture and Drawings, Hayward Gallery, London, January-April 1970 (52, repr.); on loan to the Bethnal Green Museum, London, since 1970
Lit: Léon Maillard, Auguste Rodin: Statuaire (Paris 1899), pp.71-4; Frederick Lawton, The Life and Work of Auguste Rodin (London 1906), pp.177-82, 205; Judith Cladel, Rodin: sa Vie Glorieuse et Inconnue (Paris 1936), pp.185-9; Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin (Paris 1944), No.265 (Musée Rodin cast repr., cut differently at the shoulders, dated 1883); exh. catalogue Balzac et Rodin, Musée Rodin, Paris, 1950, Musée Rodin cast repr. pl.2; Cécile Goldscheider, 'La Genèse d'une Oeuvre: Le Balzac de Rodin' in Revue des Arts, II, 1952, pp.37-44, Musée Rodin cast repr. p.40; Albert E. Elsen, Rodin (New York 1963), pp.89, 93-4; Jacques de Castro, 'Balzac and Rodin in Rhode Island' in Bulletin of Rhode Island School of Design, LII, May 1966, pp.5-6, 9, 17-19; Athena Tacha Spear, Rodin Sculpture in the Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland 1967), pp.9-26, 35-7, 91-2 (Version L, dated 1892); Albert Elsen, 'Rodin's "Naked Balzac"' in Burlington Magazine, CIX, 1967, pp.606-16; exh. catalogue Rodin & Balzac, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Mass., September-October 1974, pp.39-51, Fitzgerald collection cast, cut differently at the shoulders, repr. p.30; Jennifer Hawkins, Victoria and Albert Museum: Rodin Sculptures (London 1975), No.12, p.24, repr. pl.18; John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin: The Collection of the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia (Philadelphia 1976), pp.432-3, 447, plaster version, cut differently at the shoulders, repr. p.429

In the 1880s the Société des Gens de Lettres collected 36,000 francs to make a statue of Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), the great novelist, author of the Comédie Humaine. The sculptor originally chosen was Chapu, but he died in 1891 leaving his model in a rough state. The commission was then given in July the same year to Rodin, who undertook to complete the statue in eighteen months. With extraordinary thoroughness he studied every available portrait of Balzac, read all his works and the biographies on him, searched for models who resembled the great author, and even paid several visits to Touraine, the area where Balzac was born. He then made over twenty different studies for the head and as many for the figure, the latter both nude and draped. As the preparation was taking so long, he had to apply to the Société des Gens de Lettres for further time, and in the end the statue was not finished until 1898, when it was exhibited at the Salon de la Société Nationale. Its very original conception (expression concentrated in the head, with the massive body concealed under a robe) provoked violent reactions, and the Société des Gens de Lettres actually refused to accept it.

His studies of the head depict Balzac at different stages of his life and seem in many cases to have been based on specific portraits of him, paintings, drawings, daguerreotypes and so on. This particular work is part of the full-length study of Balzac nude, with the arms folded over the chest and the right leg forward in the act of striding (Musée Rodin No.267). Cécile Goldscheider has pointed out that it seems to have been inspired by a daguerreotype of Balzac made in 1842 (probably by Bisson, but sometimes attributed to Nadar) in which Balzac is seen in his shirt sleeves with his right hand laid on his breast, and as such formed the realistic starting-point from which Rodin went on to develop his final, more powerful and expressive interpretation. As he told G. Ferry in 1899: 'I have seen, studied all the possible portraits of the author of the Comédie Humaine; after a laborious examination, I decided to take my inspiration from a daguerreotype plate of Balzac, executed in 1842; in my opinion, it is the only faithful likeness and true resemblance of the illustrious writer. This plate is the property of Nadar; he has made a photograph from it; I have studied this document at great length. Today I have captured Balzac, I know him as if I had lived with him for years' (quoted in Le Monde Moderne, X, 1899, p.653). However Albert Elsen has suggested that the head was directly based on a wax head in the collection of Mme Marcel Pollak in Paris, which he believes was made from a living model (presumably one chosen because of his resemblance to Balzac as he appears in the daguerreotype), as it 'has a mergence of facial areas and features in a three-dimensional continuum of surface and subsurface forms, an asymmetry and genuineness of expression that could only come from life and not a photograph'. Athena Tacha Spear has also drawn attention to two other possible sources which may have had some influence on it: a caricature of Balzac by Nadar and a well-known portrait by Louis Boulanger of Balzac in a monk's robe with his arms crossed on his chest.

Though the chronology of the studies is difficult to establish, this particular nude study seems to have been the one referred to by Charles Chincholle in November 1894 as a work of 1892: 'During the year 1892 ... the artist conceived a strange Balzac in the attitude of a wrestler, seeming to defy the world. He had placed over very wide-spread legs an enormous belly. More concerned with a perfect resemblance than with the usual conception of Balzac, he had made him shocking, deformed, his head sunk into his shoulders ...' (C. Chincholle, 'Balzac et Rodin' in Le Figaro, 25 November 1894, p.3).

There are further bronze casts of this head, some cut differently at the shoulders, in the Musée Rodin in Paris, the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Mass., and the Cantor Fitzgerald Foundation, New York, while two plasters belong to the Musée Rodin in Paris and the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.642-4, reproduced p.642


You might like

In the shop