The Eternal Idol
François Auguste René Rodin (12 November 1840 – 17 November 1917), known as Auguste Rodin, was a French sculptor. Although Rodin is generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, he did not set out to rebel against the past. He was schooled traditionally, took a craftsman-like approach to his work, and desired academic recognition, although he was never accepted into Paris’s foremost school of art.
Sculpturally, Rodin possessed a unique ability to model a complex, turbulent, deeply pocketed surface in clay. Many of his most notable sculptures were roundly criticized during his lifetime. They clashed with predominant figurative sculpture traditions, in which works were decorative, formulaic, or highly thematic. Rodin’s most original work departed from traditional themes of mythology and allegory, modeled the human body with realism, and celebrated individual character and physicality. Rodin was sensitive to the controversy surrounding his work, but refused to change his style. Successive works brought increasing favor from the government and the artistic community.
From the unexpected realism of his first major figure – inspired by his 1875 trip to Italy – to the unconventional memorials whose commissions he later sought, Rodin’s reputation grew, such that he became the preeminent French sculptor of his time. By 1900, he was a world-renowned artist. Wealthy private clients sought Rodin’s work after his World’s Fair exhibit, and he kept company with a variety of high-profile intellectuals and artists. He married his lifelong companion, Rose Beuret, in the last year of both their lives. His sculptures suffered a decline in popularity after his death in 1917, but within a few decades, his legacy solidified. Rodin remains one of the few sculptors widely known outside the visual arts community.
Like so many others, the two figures of this group came from The Gates of Hell. Circa 1890, Rodin combined them to form a new independent work, which must have been an instant success, since a bronze was cast in 1891 and an enlargement, carved in marble,was commissioned in 1893 by Rodin’s friend, the painter Eugène Carrière. The plaster shown here is a cast of this marble, made at Rodin’s request because he liked to keep track of his works in this way – or possibly because he wanted to rework the group in other versions.
The title, The Eternal Idol, is very much in the Symbolist vein explored by Rodin at this time. For him, however, the form was always more important than the subject, and poetic titles like these were only given after the work was completed, sometimes in the course of discussions with writer friends.