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Title: Auguste Rodin
Author: Rilke, Rainer Maria
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Auguste Rodin" ***

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Translated by Jessie Lemont and Hans Trausil.

New York

Sunwise Turn Inc.


[Illustration: Rodin _Photographed by Gertrude Kasebier_]


    We cannot fathom his mysterious head,
    Through the veiled eyes no flickering ray is sent;
    But from his torso gleaming light is shed
    As from a candelabrum; inward bent
    His glance there glows and lingers. Otherwise
    The round breast would not blind you with its grace,
    Nor could the soft-curved circle of the thighs
    Steal to the arc whence issues a new race.
    Nor could this stark and stunted stone display
    Vibrance beneath the shoulders' heavy bar,
    Nor shine like fur upon a beast of prey,
    Nor break forth from its lines like a great star--
    Each spot is like an eye that fixed on you
    With kindling magic makes you live anew.

    _Rainer Maria Rilke._

    _Rendered into English by Jessie Lemont._


Rodin has pronounced Rilke's essay the supreme interpretation of his
work. A few years ago the sculptor expressed to the translators the
wish that some day the book might be placed before the English-speaking
public. The appreciation was published originally as one of a series of
Art Monographs under the editorship of the late Richard Muther.

To estimate and interpret the work of an artist is to be creatively
just to him. For this reason there are fewer critics than there are
artists, and criticism with but few exceptions is almost invariably
negligible and futile.

The strongest and most procreant contact is that which takes place
between two creative minds. This book of Rilke on Rodin is the fruit of
such a contact. It ripened on the tree of a great friendship for the
master. For a number of years Rilke lived close to Rodin at 77 rue de
Varenne, in the old mansion surrounded by a beautiful park which was
subsequently dedicated to France by the artist and is now the Musée de
Rodin. Here the young poet shared the life of the aged sculptor and his
most silent hours.

Rodin felt that Rilke approached his sculptures from the same
imaginative sphere whence his own creative impulse sprang; he knew
that in the pellucid and illuminating realm of the poetic his works
found their spiritual home as their material manifestation partook of
the atmosphere when placed under the open sky, given wholly to the sun
and wind and rain.

H. T.


"_Writers work through words--Sculptors through matter"--Pomponius
Gauricus in his essay, "De Sculptura"_ (_about_ 1504).

_"The hero is he who is immovably centred."--Emerson._

Rodin was solitary before fame came to him and afterward he became,
perhaps, still more solitary. For fame is ultimately but the summary of
all misunderstandings that crystallize about a new name.

Rodin's message and its significance are little understood by the
many men who gathered about him. It would be a long and weary task to
enlighten them; nor is this necessary, for they assembled about the
name, not about the work,--a work that has grown far beyond this name's
sound and limitations, and that has become nameless as a plain is
nameless or a sea that has a name but on the map, in books, and to men,
but which is, in reality, but distance, movement and depth.

The work that is to be spoken of in these pages developed through long
years. It has grown like a forest and has not lost one hour. One walks
among these thousand forms overwhelmed with the imagination and the
craftsmanship which they represent, and involuntarily one looks for
the two hands out of which this world has risen. One thinks of how
small man's hands are, how soon they tire, and how little time is given
them to move. And one longs to see these hands that have lived like a
hundred hands; like a nation of hands that rose before sunrise for the
accomplishment of this work. One asks for the man who directs these
hands. Who is this man?

He is a man rich in years; and his life is one that cannot be related.
It began and still continues; stretches out deeply into a great age,
and to us, it seems as though it had passed many hundreds of years ago.
It perhaps had a childhood; a childhood in poverty--dark, groping and
uncertain. And maybe it possesses this childhood still, for, says St.
Augustine somewhere, whither should it have gone? It holds, perchance,
all its past hours, the hours of expectation and abandonment, the hours
of doubt and the long hours of need. It is a life that has lost nothing
and has forgotten nothing; a life that has absorbed all things as it
passed, for only out of such a life as this, we believe, could have
risen such fulness and abundance of work; only such a life as this, in
which everything is simultaneous and awake, in which nothing passes
unnoticed, could remain young and strong and rise again and again to
high creations. Perchance the time will come when someone will picture
this life, its details, its episodes and its conflicts. Someone will
tell a story of a child that often forgot to eat because it seemed more
important to him to carve inferior wood with a cheap knife, and someone
will relate some event of the days of early manhood that contained
promise of future greatness--one of those incidents that are intimate
and prophetic.

Perhaps some such thought as that which, five hundred years ago, a monk
expressed to young Michel Colombe, may have suggested itself to Rodin
on one of the crossways, at the beginning of his work: "Travaille,
petit, regarde tout ton saoul et le clocher à jour de Saint Pol, et les
belles oeuvres des compaignons, regarde, aime le bon Dieu, et tu auras
la grâce des grandes choses." "And thou wilt have the grace of the
great things." For it was just that which Rodin was seeking: the grace
of the great things.

The galleries of the Louvre revealed to the young artist radiant
visions of the antique world; visions of southern skies, and of the
sea, and far beyond rose heavy stone monuments, reaching over from
immemorial civilizations into times not yet existent. There were
stones that lay as if asleep but that held a suggestion that they would
awake on some last judgment day, stones on which there was nothing
mortal. There were others that bore a movement, a gesture that had
remained as fresh as though it had been caught there in order to be
given to some child that was passing by.

Not alone in the great works and in these monuments was this vitality
alive: the unnoticed, the small, the concealed, were not less filled
with this deep inward excitement, with this rich and surprising
unrest of living things. Even stillness, where there was stillness,
consisted of hundreds and hundreds of moments of motion that kept their

There were small figures, animals particularly, that moved, stretched
or curled; and although a bird perched quietly, it contained the
element of flight. A sky grew back of it and hung about it; the far
distance was folded down on each of its feathers, and should these
feathers spread out like wings, the wide expanse of them would be
quite great. There was stillness in the stunted animals that stood to
support the cornices of the cathedrals or cowered and cringed beneath
the consoles, too inert to bear the weight; and there were dogs and
squirrels, wood-peckers and lizards, tortoises, rats and snakes. At
least one of each kind; these creatures seemed to have been caught
in the open, in the forest and on roads, and the compulsion to live
under stone tendrils, flowers and leaves must have changed them slowly
into what they were now and were to remain forever. But other animals
could be found that were born in this petrified environment, without
remembrance of a former existence. They were entirely the natives of
this erect, rising, steeply ascending world. Over skeleton-like arches
they stood in their fanatic meagerness, with mouths open, like those of
pigeons; shrieking, for the nearness of the bells had destroyed their
hearing. They did not bear their weight where they stood, but stretched
themselves and thus helped the stones to rise. The bird-like ones
were perched high up on the balustrades, as though they were on the
way to other climes, and wanted but to rest a few centuries and look
down upon the growing city. Others in the forms of dogs were suspended
horizontally from the eaves, high up in the air, ready to throw the
rainwater out of their jaws that were swollen from vomiting. All had
transformed and accommodated themselves to this environment; they had
lost nothing of life. On the contrary, they lived more strongly and
more vehemently--lived forever the fervent anu impetuous life of the
time that had created them.

And whosoever saw these figures felt that they were not born out of
a whim nor out of a playful attempt to find forms unheard of before.
Necessity had created them. Out of the fear of invisible doomsdays
of a hard faith men had freed themselves by these visible things;
from uncertainty men had taken refuge in this reality. They sought
God no more by inventing images of Him or by trying to conceive the
Much-too-far-One; but they evinced their piety by carrying all fear and
poverty, all anxiety and all pleading of the lowly into His house. This
was better than to paint; for painting was a delusion, a beautiful and
skillful deception. Men were longing for the more real and simple. Thus
originated the strange sculpture of the cathedrals, this! cross-breed
of the heavy laden and of the animals.

As the young artist looked from the plastic art of the Middle Ages,
back to the Antique, and again beyond the Antique into the beginnings
of untold pasts, did it not seem as though the human soul had longed
again and again through the bright and dark periods of history, for
this art which expressed more than word and painting, more than picture
and symbol; this art which is the humble materialization of mankind's
hopes and fears?

At the end of the Renaissance there was the flowering of a great
plastic art; at that time when life renewed itself, when there was a
revealment of the secret of faces, and a great vital movement was in
the state of growth.

And now? Had not a time come again that was urging toward this
expression--this strong and impressive exposition of what was
unexpressed, confused, unrevealed? The arts somehow had renewed
themselves, zeal and expectation filled and animated them. But perhaps
this art, the plastic art that still hesitated in the fear of a great
past, was to be called upon to find that which the others sought
gropingly and longingly. This art was to help a time whose misfortune
was that all its conflicts lay in the invisible.

The language of this art was the body. And this body--when had one last
seen it?

Strata after strata of costumes were piled over it like an ever
renewed varnish; but under this protecting crust the growing soul had
changed it; and this growing soul worked breathlessly at remodeling
the expression of die faces. The body had become a different one. Were
it now unveiled, it would perhaps reveal the imprint of a thousand
new expressions as well as the stamp of those old mysteries that,
rising from the unconscious, reared their dripping heads like strange
river-gods out of the singing blood. And this body could not be less
beautiful than that of the Antique. It must be of a still higher
beauty. For two thousand years life had held this body in its hands and
had moulded it, had forged it, now listening, now hammering, night and
day. The art of painting dreamed of this body, adorned it with light
and illumined it with twilight, surrounded it with all softness and all
delight; touched it like a petal, and in turn was swept by it as by a
wave. But plastic art, to which it in truth belonged, as yet of this
body knew nothing.

Here was a task as great as the world. And he who stood before it and
beheld it was unknown and struggling under the necessity of earning his
bread. He was quite alone and if he had been a real dreamer, he would
have dreamed a beautiful and deep dream--a dream that no one would have
understood--one of those long, long dreams in which a life could pass
like a day. But this young man who worked in the factory at Sèvres was
a dreamer whose dream rose in his hands and he began immediately its
realization. He sensed where he had to begin. A quietude which was in
him showed him the wise road. Here already Rodin's deep harmony with
Nature revealed itself; that harmony which the poet George Rodenbach
calls an elemental power. And, indeed, it is an underlying patience
in Rodin which renders him so great, a silent, superior forbearance
resembling the wonderful patience and kindness of Nature that begins
creation with a trifle in order to proceed silently and steadily toward
abundant consummation. Rodin did not presume to create the tree in its
full growth. He began with the seed beneath the earth, as it were. And
this seed grew downward, sunk deep its roots and anchored them before
it began to shoot upward in the form of a young sprout. This required
time, time that lengthened into years. "One must not hurry," said Rodin
to the few friends who gathered about him, in answer to their urgence.

At that time the war came and Rodin went to Brussels. He modeled some
figures for private houses and several of the groups on the top of the
Bourse, and also the four large corner figures on the monument erected
to Loos, City-mayor in the Parc d'Anvers. These were orders which he
carried out conscientiously, without allowing his growing personality
to speak. His real development took place outside of all this; it was
compressed into the free hours of the evening and unfolded itself in
the solitary stillness of the nights; and he had to bear this division
of his energy for years. He possessed the quiet perseverance of men who
are necessary, the strength of those for whom a great work is waiting.

While he was working on the Exchange of Brussels, he may have felt that
there were no more buildings which admitted of the worth of sculpture
as the cathedrals had done, those great magnets of plastic art of past
times. Sculpture was a separate thing, as was the easel picture, but
it did not require a wall like the picture. It did not even need a
roof. It was an object that could exist for itself alone, and it was
well to give it entirely the character of a complete thing about which
one could walk, and which one could look at from all sides. And yet
it had to distinguish itself somehow from other things, the ordinary
things which everyone could touch. It had to become unimpeachable,
sacrosanct, separated from chance and time through which it rose
isolated and miraculous, like the face of a seer. It had to be given
its own certain place, in which no arbitrariness had placed it, and it
must be intercalated in the silent continuance of space and its great
laws. It had to be fitted into the space that surrounded it, as into a
niche; its certainty, steadiness and loftiness did not spring from its
significance but from its harmonious adjustment to its environment.

Rodin knew that, first of all, sculpture depended upon an infallible
knowledge of the human body. Slowly, searchingly, he had approached the
surface of this body from which now a hand stretched out toward him,
and the form, the gesture of this hand contained the semblance of the
force within the body. The farther he progressed on this remote road,
the more chance remained behind, and one law led him on to another. And
ultimately it was this surface toward which his search was directed. It
consisted of infinitely many movements. The play of light upon these
surfaces made manifest that each of these movements was different and
each significant. At this point they seemed to flow into one another;
at that, to greet each other hesitatingly; at a third, to pass by each
other without recognition, like strangers. There were undulations
without end. There was no point at which there was not life and

Rodin had now discovered the fundamental element of his art; as it
were, the germ of his world. It was the surface,--this differently
great surface, variedly accentuated, accurately measured, out of which
everything must rise,--which was from this moment the subject matter
of his art, the thing for which he laboured, for which he suffered and
for which he was awake.

His art was not built upon a great idea, but upon a minute,
conscientious realization, upon the attainable, upon a craft.

There was no haughtiness in him. He pledged himself to a humble and
difficult beauty that he could oversee, summon and direct. The other
beauty, the great beauty, had to come when everything was prepared, as
animals come to a drinking-place in the forest in the late night when
nothing foreign is there.

With this awakening Rodin's most individual work began. Not until now
had all the traditional conceptions of plastic art become worthless to
him. Pose, grouping, composition now meant nothing to him. He saw only
innumerable living surfaces, only life. The means of expression which
he had formed for himself were directed to and brought forward this

The next task was to become master of himself and of his abundance.
Rodin seized upon the life that was everywhere about him. He grasped
it in its smallest details; he observed it and it followed him; he
awaited it at the cross-roads where it lingered; he overtook it as it
ran before him, and he found it in all places equally great, equally
powerful and overwhelming. There was not one part of the human body
that was insignificant or unimportant: it was alive. The life that
was expressed in faces was easily readable. Life manifested in bodies
was more dispersed, greater, more mysterious and more eternal. Here
it did not disguise itself; it carried itself carelessly where there
was carelessness and proudly with the proud. Receding from the stage
of the face it had taken off its mask and concealed itself behind the
scenes of garments. Here in the body Rodin found the world of his time
as he had recognized the world of the Middle Ages in the cathedrals. A
universe gathered about this veiled mystery--a world held together by
an organism was adapted to this organism and made subject to it. Man
had become church and there were thousands and thousands of churches,
none similar to the other and each one alive. But the problem was to
show that they were all of One God.

For years Rodin walked the roads of life searchingly and humbly as
one who felt himself a beginner. No one knew of his struggles; he had
no confidants and few friends. Behind the work that provided him with
necessities his growing work hid itself awaiting its time. He read a
great deal. At this time he might have been seen in the streets of
Brussels always with a book in his hand, but perhaps this book was but
a pretext for the absorption in himself, in the gigantic task that
lay before him. As with all creative people the feeling of having a
great work before him was an incitement, something that augmented
and concentrated his forces. And if doubts or uncertainties assailed
him, or he was possessed of the great impatience of those who rise,
or the fear of an early death, or the threat of daily want, all these
influences found in him a quiet, erect resistance, a defiance, a
strength and confidence--all the not-yet-unfurled flags of a great

Perhaps it was the past that in such moments came to his side, speaking
in the voice of the cathedrals that he went to hear again and again.
In books, too, he found many thoughts that gave him encouragement. He
read for the first time Dante's Divina Comedia. It was a revelation.
The suffering bodies of another generation passed before him. He gazed
into a century the garments of which had been torn off; he saw the
great and never-to-be-forgotten judgment of a poet on his age. There
were pictures that justified him in his ideas; when he read about the
weeping feet of Nicholas the Third, he realized that there _were_ such
feet, that there was a weeping which was everywhere, over the whole of
mankind, and there were tears that came from all pores.

From Dante he came to Baudelaire. Here was no judgment, no poet, who,
guided by the hand of a shadow, climbed to the heavens. A man who
suffered had raised his voice, had lifted it high above the heads of
others as though to save them from perishing. In this poet's verses
there were passages, standing out prominently, that did not seem to
have been written but moulded; words and groups of words that had
melted under the glowing touch of the poet; lines that were like
reliefs and sonnets that carried like columns with interlaced capitals
the burden of a cumulating thought. He felt dimly that this poetic art,
where it ended abruptly, bordered on the beginning of another art and
that it reached out toward this other art. In Baudelaire he felt the
artist who had preceded him, who had not allowed himself to be deluded
by faces but who sought bodies in which life was greater, more cruel
and more restless.

After having read the works of these two poets they remained always
near him, his thoughts went from them and yet returned to them again.
At the time when his art took form and prepared itself for expression,
when life as it presented itself before him had little significance,
Rodin dwelt in the books of the poets and gleaned from the past. Later,
when as a creator he again touched those realms, their forms rose like
memories in his own life, aching and real, and entered into his work as
though into a home.

At last, after years of solitary labor he made the attempt at a step
forward with one of his creations. It was a question put before the
public. The public answered negatively. And Rodin retired once more for
thirteen years. These were the years during which he, still unknown,
matured to a master and became the absolute ruler of his own medium,
ever working, ever thinking, ever experimenting, uninfluenced by
the age that did not participate in him. Perhaps the fact that his
entire development had taken place in this undisturbed tranquility
gave him later, when men disputed over the value of his work, that
powerful certainty. At the moment when they began to doubt him, he
doubted himself no longer, all uncertainty lay behind him. His fate
depended no more upon the acclamation or the criticism of the people;
it was decided at the time they thought to crush it with mockery and
hostility. During the period of his growth no strange voice sounded, no
praise bewildered, no blame disturbed him.

As Parsifal grew so his art grew in purity alone with itself and
with a great eternal Nature. Only his work spoke to him. It spoke
to him in the morning when he awakened, and at even it sounded in
his hands like an instrument that has been laid away. Hence his work
was so invincible. For it came to the world ripe, it did not appear
as something unfinished that begged for justification. It came as a
reality that had wrought itself into existence, a reality which is,
which one must acknowledge.

Like a monarch who, hearing that a city is to be built in his
kingdom, meditates whether it would be well to grant the privilege,
and hesitates; and finally goes forth to see the place and finds
there a great powerful city which is finished, which stands as though
from eternity with walls, towers and gates, so the world came when
ultimately called to the completed work of Rodin.

This period of Rodin's maturescence is limited by two works. At its
beginning stands the head of "The Man with the Broken Nose," at
its end the figure of "The Man of the Primal Age." "L'Homme au Nez
Cassé" was refused by the Salon in the year of 1864. One comprehends
this rejection, for one feels that in this work Rodin's art was
mature, certain and perfected. With the inconsiderateness of a great
confession it contradicted the requirements of academic beauty which
were still the dominating standard.

In vain Rude had given his Goddess of Rebellion on the top of the
triumphal gate of the Place de L'Étoile that wild gesture and that
far-reaching cry. In vain Barye had created his supple animals; and
The Dance by Carpeaux was merely an object of mockery until finally it
became so accustomed a sight that it was passed by unnoticed.

The plastic art that was pursued was still that based upon models,
poses and allegories; it held to the superficial, cheap and comfortable
metier that was satisfied with the more or less skillful repetition
of some sanctified appeal. In this environment the head of "The Man
with the Broken Nose" should have roused the storm that did not break
out until the occasion of the exhibition of some later works of Rodin.
But probably it was returned almost unexamined as the work of some one

Rodin's motive in modeling this head, the head of an ageing, ugly man,
whose broken nose even helped to emphasize the tortured expression of
the face, must have been the fulness of life that was cumulated in
these features. There were no symmetrical planes in this face at all,
nothing repeated itself, no spot remained empty, dumb or indifferent.
This face had not been touched by life, it had been permeated through
and through with it as though an inexorable hand had thrust it into
fate and held it there as in the whirlpool of a washing, gnawing

When one holds and turns this mask in the hand, one is surprised at the
continuous change of profiles, none of which is incidental, imagined or
indefinite. There is on this head no line, no exaggeration, no contour
that Rodin has not seen and willed. One feels that some of these
wrinkles came early, others later, that between this and that deep
furrow lie years, terrible years. One knows that some of the marks on
this face were engraved slowly, hesitatingly, that others were traced
gently and afterwards drawn in strongly by some habit or thought that
came again and again; one recognizes sharp lines that must have been
cut in one night, as though picked by a bird in the worn forehead of a
sleepless man.

All these impressions are encompassed in the hard and intense life
that rises out of this one face. As one lays down this mask one seems
to stand on the height of a tower and to look down upon the erring
roads over which many nations have wandered. And as one lifts it up
again it becomes a thing that one must call beautiful for the sake of
its perfection. But this beauty is not the result of the incomparable
technique alone. It rises from the feeling of balance and equilibrium
in all these moving surfaces, from the knowledge that all these moments
of emotion originate and come to an end in the thing itself. If one
is gripped by the many-voiced tortures of this face, immediately
afterwards there comes the feeling that no accusation proceeds from it.
It does not plead to the world; it seems to carry its justice within
itself, to hold the reconciliation of all its contradictions and to
possess a forbearance great enough for all its burden.

When Rodin created this mask he had before him a man who sat quiet
with a calm face. But the face was that of a living person and when he
searched through it he saw that it was as full of motion, as full of
unrest as the dashing of waves. In the course of the lines there was
movement; there was movement in the contours of the surfaces; shadows
stirred as in sleep and light seemed to softly touch the forehead.
Nothing possessed rest, not even death; for decay, too, meant movement,
dead matter still subject to life. Nature is all motion and an art
that wished to give a faithful! and conscientious interpretation of
life could not make rest, that did not exist, its ideal. In reality
the Antique did not hold such an ideal. One has only to think of the
Nike. This piece of sculpture has not only brought down to us the
movement of a beautiful maiden who goes to meet her lover, but it is
at the same time an eternal picture of Hellenic wind in all its sweep
and splendour. There was no quiet even in the stones of still older
civilizations. The hieratically retained gesture of very ancient cults
contained an unrest of living surfaces like water within a vessel.
There were currents in the taciturn gods that were sitting; and those
that were standing commanded with a gesture that sprang like a fountain
out from the stone and fell back again causing many ripples.

This was not movement that opposed the intrinsic character of the
sculpture. Only the movement that does not complete itself within the
thing, that is not kept in balance by other movements, is that which
exceeds beyond the boundaries of sculpture. The plastic work of art
resembles those cities of olden times where the life was spent entirely
within the walls. The inhabitants did not cease to breathe, their life
ran on; but nothing urged them beyond the limits of the walls that
surrounded them, nothing pointed beyond the gates and no expectation
opened a vista to the outer world. However great the movement of a
sculpture may be, though it spring out of infinite distances, even from
the depths of the sky, it must return to itself, the great circle must
complete itself, the circle of solitude that encloses a work of art.
This was the law which, unwritten, lived in the sculptures of times
gone by. Rodin recognized it; he knew that that which gave distinction
to a plastic work of art was its complete self-absorption. It must not
demand nor expect aught from outside, it should refer to nothing that
lay beyond it, see nothing that was not within itself; its environment
must lie within its own boundaries. The sculptor Leonardo has given
to Gioconda that unapproachableness, that movement that turns inward,
that look which one cannot catch or meet. Probably his Francesco Sforza
contained the same element, it carried a gesture which was like a proud
envoy of state who returned after a completed commission.

During the long years that passed between the mask of "The Man with the
Broken Nose" and the figure of "The Man of Primal Times" many silent
developments took place in Rodin. New relations connected him more
closely with the past of the art of sculpture, and the greatness of
this past, which has been a restriction to so many, to him had become
the wing that carried him. For if he received during that time an
encouragement and confirmation of that which he wished and sought, it
came to him from the art of the antique world and from the dim mystery
of the cathedrals. Men did not speak to him. Stones spoke. "The Man
with the Broken Nose" had revealed how Rodin sought his way through a
face. "The Man of Primal Times" proved his unlimited supremacy over the
body. "Souverain tailleur d'ymaiges"--this title, which the masters of
the Middle Ages bestowed on one another without envy and with serious
valuation, should belong to him.

Here was a life-sized figure in all parts of which life was equally
powerful and seemed to have been elevated everywhere to the same height
of expression. That which was expressed in the face, that pain of a
heavy awakening, and at the same time the longing for that awakening,
was written on the smallest part of this body. Every part was a mouth
that spoke a language of its own. The most critical eye could not
discover a spot on this figure that was the less alive, less definite
and clear. It was as though strength rose into the veins of this man
from the depths of the earth. This figure was like a silhouette of a
tree that has the storms of March still before it and trembles because
the fruit and fulness of its summer lives no more in its roots, but is
slowly rising to the trunk about which the great winds will tear.

The figure is significant in still another sense. It indicates in
the work of Rodin the birth of gesture. That gesture which grew and
developed to such greatness and power, here bursts forth like a spring
that softly ripples over this body. It awakens in the darkness of
primal times and in its growth seems to flow through the breadth of
this work as though reaching out from by-gone centuries to those that
are to come. Hesitatingly it unfolds itself in the lifted arms. These
arms are still so heavy that the hand of one rests upon the top of the
head. But this hand is roused from its sleep, it concentrates itself
quite high on the top of the brain where it lies solitary. It prepares
for the work of centuries, a work that has no measure and no end. And
the right foot stands expectant with a first step.

One would say of this gesture that it is wrapped into a hard bud. In
a thought's glow and a storm in will it unfolds itself and that "St.
John" steps forth with excited, speaking arms and with the splendid
step of one who feels Another follow him. The body of this man is not
untested. Deserts have glowed through it, hunger has made it ache and
all thirsts have tried it. He has endured and has become hard. His
lean, ascetic body is like a forked piece of wood that encloses, as it
were, the wide angle of his stride. He walks. ... He walks as though
all distances of the world were within him and he distributed them
through his mighty step. He strides.... His arms speak of this step,
his fingers spread and seem to make the sign of striding in the air.

This "St. John" is the first that walks in the work of Rodin. Many
follow. The citizens of Calais begin their heavy walk, and all walking
seems to prepare for the mighty, challenging step of Balzac.

The gesture of the standing figure develops further. It withdraws into
itself, it shrivels like burning paper, it becomes stronger, more
concentrated, more animated. That Eve, that was originally to be placed
over the Gates of Hell, stands with head sunk deeply into the shadow of
the arms that draw together over the breast like those of a freezing
woman. The back is rounded, the nape of the neck almost horizontal.
She bends forward as though listening over her own body in which a new
future begins to stir. And it is as though the gravity of this future
weighed upon the senses of the woman and drew her down from the freedom
of life into the deep, humble service of motherhood.

Again and again in his figures Rodin returned to this bending inward,
to this intense listening to one's own depth. This is seen in the
wonderful figure which he has called "La Méditation" and in that
immemorable "Voix Intérieure," the most silent voice of Victor Hugo's
songs, that stands on the monument of the poet almost hidden under the
voice of wrath. Never was human body assembled to such an extent about
its inner self, so bent by its own soul and yet upheld by the elastic
strength of its blood. The neck, bent side-wise on the lowered body,
rises and stretches and holds the listening head over the distant roar
of life; this is so impressively and strongly conceived that one does
not remember a more gripping gesture or one of deeper meaning. It is
striking that the arms are lacking. Rodin must have considered these
arms as too facile a solution of his task, as something that did not
belong to that body which desired to be enwrapped within itself without
the aid of aught external. When one looks upon this figure one thinks
of Duse in a drama of d'Annunzio's, when she is painfully abandoned and
tries to embrace without arms and to hold without hands. This scene, in
which her body has learned a caressing that reaches beyond it, belongs
to the unforgettable moments in her acting. It conveys the impression
that the arms are something superfluous, an adornment, a thing of the
rich, something immoderate that one can throw off in order to become
quite poor. She appeared in this moment as though she had forfeited
something unimportant, rather like someone who gives away his cup in
order to drink out of the brook.

The same completeness is conveyed in all the armless statues of
Rodin: nothing necessary is lacking. One stands before them as
before something whole. The feeling of incompleteness does not
rise from the mere aspect of a thing, but from the assumption of a
narrow-minded pedantry, which says that arms are a necessary part
of the body and that a body without arms cannot be perfect. It was
not long since that rebellion arose against the cutting off of trees
from the edge of pictures by the Impressionists. Custom rapidly
accepted this impression. With regard to the painter, at least,
came the understanding and the belief that an artistic whole need
not necessarily coincide with the complete thing, that new values,
proportions and balances may originate within the pictures. In the art
of sculpture, also, it is left to the artist to make out of many things
one thing, and from the smallest part of a thing an entirety.

There are among the works of Rodin hands, single, small hands which,
without belonging to a body, are alive. Hands that rise, irritated
and in wrath; hands whose five bristling fingers seem to bark like the
five jaws of a dog of Hell. Hands that walk, sleeping hands, and hands
that are awaking; criminal hands, tainted with hereditary disease; and
hands that are tired and will do no more, and have lain down in some
corner like sick animals that know no one can help them. But hands are
a complicated organism, a delta into which many divergent streams of
life rush together in order to pour themselves into the great storm
of action. There is a history of hands; they have their own culture,
their particular beauty; one concedes to them the right of their own
development, their own needs, feelings, caprices and tendernesses.
Rodin, knowing through the education which he has given himself that
the entire body consists of scenes of life, of a life that may become
in every detail individual and great, has the power to give to any part
of this vibrating surface the independence of a whole. As the human
body is to Rodin an entirety only as long as a common action stirs
all its parts and forces, so on the other hand portions of different
bodies that cling to one another from an inner necessity merge into one
organism. A hand laid on another's shoulder or thigh does not any more
belong to the body from which it came,--from this body and from the
object which it touches or seizes something new originates, a new thing
that has no name and belongs to no one.

This comprehension is the foundation of the grouping of figures
by Rodin; from it springs that coherence of the figures, that
concentration of the forms, that quality of clinging together. He does
not proceed to work from figures that embrace one another. He has
no models which he arranges and places together; he starts with the
points of the strongest contact as being the culminating points of the
work. There where something new arises, he begins and devotes all the
capacity of his chisel to the mysterious phenomenon that accompanies
the growth of a new thing. He works, as it were, by the light of the
flame that flashes out from these points of contact, and sees only
those parts of the body that are thus illuminated.

The spell of the great group of the girl and the man that is named
"The Kiss" lies in this understanding distribution of life. In this
group waves flow through the bodies, a shuddering ripple, a thrill of
strength, and a presaging of beauty. This is the reason why one beholds
everywhere on these bodies the ecstacy of this kiss. It is like a sun
that rises and floods all with its light.

Still more marvelous is that other kiss "L'éternelle Idole." The
material texture of this creation encloses a living impulse as a
wall encloses a garden. One of the copies of this marble is in the
possession of Eugène Carrière, and in the silent twilight of his house
this stone pulsates like a spring in which there is an eternal motion,
a rising and falling, a mysterious stir of an elemental force. A girl
kneels, her beautiful body is softly bent backward, her right arm is
stretched behind her. Her hand has gropingly found her foot. In these
three lines which shut her in from the outer world her life lies
enclosed with its secret. The stone beneath her lifts her up as she
kneels there. And suddenly, in the attitude into which the young girl
has fallen from idleness, or reverie, or solitude, one recognizes an
ancient, sacred symbol, a posture like that into which the goddess of
distant, cruel cults had sunk. The head of this woman bends somewhat
forward; with an expression of indulgence, majesty and forbearance, she
looks down as from the height of a still night upon the man who sinks
his face into her bosom as though into many blossoms. He, too, kneels,
but deeper, deep in the stone. His hands lie behind him like worthless
and empty things. The right hand is open; one sees into it. From this
group radiates a mysterious greatness. One does not dare to give it
one meaning, it has thousands. Thoughts glide over it like shadows,
new meanings arise like riddles and unfold into clear significance.
Something of the mood of a Purgatorio lives within this work. A heaven
is near that has not yet been reached, a hell is near that has not yet
been forgotten. Here, too, all splendour flashes from the contact of
the two bodies and from the contact of the woman with herself.

Another conception of the theme of the contact of living surfaces and
moving planes is that stupendous "Porte de L'Enfer" on which Rodin has
worked for twenty years and the final casting into bronze of which is
imminent. Advancing simultaneously in the pursuit of the import of the
movements of planes and their points of confluence Rodin came to seek
bodies that touched one another on many points, bodies whose movements
were more vehement, stronger and more impetuous. The more mutual points
of contact two bodies offered, the more impatiently they rushed upon
each other like chemicals of close affinity. The tighter the new whole
which they formed held together, the more they became like one organism.

From "The Gates of Hell" memories of Dante emerged. Ugolino; the
wandering ones, Dante and Virgil, close together; the throng of the
voluptuous from among whom like a dried up tree rose the grasping
gesture of the avaricious. The centaurs, the giants and monsters, the
syrens, fauns and wives of fauns, all the wild and ravenous god-animals
of the pre-Christian forest rose before him. He conjured all the forms
of Dante's dream as though from out the stirring depths of personal
remembrance and gave them one after another the silent deliverance of
material existence. Hundreds of figures and groups were thus created.
The visions of the poet who belonged to another age awakened the artist
who made them rise again to the knowledge of a thousand other gestures;
gestures of seizing, losing, suffering and abandoning, and his tireless
hands stretched out farther and farther beyond the world of the
Florentine to ever new forms and revelations.

This earnest, self-centred worker who had never sought for material and
who desired no other fulfilment than was attainable by the increasingly
maturing mastery of his chisel thus penetrated through all the dramas
of life. The depths of the nights of love unfolded themselves to him
and revealed the dark, sorrowful and blissful breadth of a realm like
that of a still heroic world in which there were no garments, in which
faces were extinguished and bodies were supreme. With senses at white
heat he sought life in the great chaos of this wrestling, and what he
saw was Life.

Life did not close in about him in sultry narrowness: the atmosphere of
the alcoves was far away. Here life became work; a thousandfold life
throbbed in every moment. Here was loss and gain, madness and fright,
longing and sorrow. Here was a desire that was immeasurable, a thirst
so great that all the waters of the world dried up in it like a single
drop. Here was no lying and denying, and here the joys of giving and
taking were genuine and great. Here were the vices and blasphemies, the
damnations and the beatitudes; and suddenly it became evident that a
world was poor that concealed or buried all this life or pretended that
it did not exist. _It was!_

Alongside of the whole history of mankind was this other history that
did not know disguises, conventions, differences or ranks, that only
knew strife. This history, too, had its evolution. From an instinct it
had become a longing, from a physical possessorship between man and
woman it had become an uplifting desire of human being for human being.
Thus this history appears in the work of Rodin; still the eternal
struggle of the sexes, but the woman is no more the overpowered or
willing animal. She is longing and awake like the man, and both man and
woman seem to have met in order to find their souls. The man who rises
at night and softly seeks another is like a treasure-seeker who wishes
to find on the cross-roads of sex the great happiness. To discover in
all lusts and crimes, in all trials and all despair, an infinite reason
for existence is a part of that great longing that creates poets. Here
humanity hungers for something beyond itself. Here hands stretch out
for eternity. Here eyes open, see Death and do not fear him. Here a
hopeless heroism reveals itself whose glory dawns and vanishes like a
smile, blossoms and withers like a rose. Here are all the storms of
desire and the calms of expectation. Here are dreams that become deeds
and deeds that fade into dreams. Here, as at a gigantic gambling table,
great fortunes are lost or won.

Rodin's work embodied all this. He who had seen so much life found
here life's fulness and abundance: the body each part of which was
will, the mouths, that had the form of cries which seemed to rise from
the depths of the earth. He found the gestures of the ancient gods,
the beauty and suppleness of animals, the reeling of old dances, the
movements of forgotten divine services, strangely combined with new
gestures that had originated during the long period in which art
was alien and blind to all these relations. These new gestures were
particularly interesting to him. They were impatient. As someone who
seeks for an object for a long time becomes more and more helpless,
confused, and hasty, and finally creates a disorder in an accumulation
of things about him, so the gestures of mankind who cannot find reason
for existence, have become more and more impatient, nervous and
hurried. Man's movements have become more hesitating. They have no
more the athletic and resolute strength with which former men grappled
all things. They do not resemble those movements that are preserved
in ancient images, those gestures of which only the first and the
last were important. Between these two simple movements innumerable
transitions have been interpolated, and it is manifest that it is just
in these intervening moments that the life of the man of to-day passes
by; his action and his disability for action, the seizing, the holding,
the abandoning has changed. In everything there is much more experience
and at the same time more ignorance; there is despondency and a
continuous attack against opposition; there is grief over things lost;
there is calculation, judgment, consideration and less spontaneity.

Rodin has discovered these gestures, has evolved them out of one or
several figures and moulded them into sculptural forms. He has endowed
hundreds and hundreds of figures that were only a little larger than
his hand with the life of all passions, the blossoming of all delights
and the burden of all vices. He nas created bodies that touch each
other all over and cling together like animals bitten into each other,
that fall into the depth of oneness like a single organism; bodies that
listen like faces and lift themselves like arms; chains of bodies,
garlands and tendrils and heavy clusters of bodies into which sin's
sweetness rises out of the roots of pain. Leonardo only with equal
power has thus joined men together in his grandiose representation
of the end of the world. In his work as in this are those who throw
themselves into the abyss in order to forget the great grief, and those
who shatter their children's heads lest they should grow to experience
the great woe.

The army of these figures became much too numerous to fit into the
frame and wings of the "Gates of Hell." Rodin made choice after choice
and eliminated everything that was too solitary to subject itself
to the great totality; everything that was not quite necessary was
rejected. He made the figures and groups find their own places; he
observed the life of the people that he had created, listened to them
and left every one to his will. Thus year after year the world of this
gate grew. Its surface to which plastic forms were attached began to
live. And as the reliefs became softer and softer the excitement of the
figures died away into the surface. In the frame there is from both
sides an ascension, a mutual uplifting; in the wings of the gates the
predominating motion is a falling, gliding and precipitating. The wings
recede somewhat and their upper edge is separated from the projecting
edge of the cross-frame by a large surface. Before the silent, closed
room of this surface is placed the figure of "The Thinker," the man who
realizes the greatness and terror of the spectacle about him, because
he _thinks_ it. He sits absorbed and silent, heavy with thought: with
all the strength of an acting man he thinks. His whole body has become
head and all the blood in his veins has become brain. He occupies the
center of the Gate. Above him, on the top of the frame, are three male
figures; they stand with heads bent together as though overlooking a
great depth; each stretches out an arm and points toward the abyss
which drags them ever downward. The Thinker must bear this weight
within himself.

Among the groups and figures that have been modeled for this Gate are
many of great beauty. It is impossible to enumerate all of them as it
is impossible to describe them. Rodin himself once said that he would
have to speak for one year in order to recreate one of his works in

These small figures which are preserved in plaster, bronze and stone,
like some animal figures of the Antique, give the impression of being
quite large. There is in Rodin's studio the cast of a panther, a Greek
work hardly as large as a hand (the original of which is in the cabinet
of Medallions in the National Library of Paris); as one stands in front
of this beast and looks under its body into the room formed by the four
strong, supple paws, one seems to look into the depth of an Indian
stone temple. As this work grows and extends itself to the greatness
of its suggestion, so the small plastic figures of Rodin convey the
sense of largeness. By the play of innumerably many surfaces and by the
perfect and decisive planes, he creates an effect of magnitude. The
atmosphere about these figures is like that which surrounds rocks. An
upward sweep of lines seems to lift up the heavens, the flight of their
fall to tear down the stars.

At this time, perhaps, the Danaide was created, a figure that has
thrown itself from a kneeling position down into a wealth of flowing
hair. It is wonderful to walk slowly about this marble, to follow
the long line that curves about the richly unfolded roundness of the
back to the face that loses itself in the stone as though in a great
weeping, and to the hand which like a broken flower speaks softly
once more of life that lies deep under the eternal ice of the block.
"Illusion," the daughter of Icarus, is a luminous materialization of
a long, helpless fall. The beautiful group that is called "L'homme
et sa pensée" is the representation of a man who kneels and with the
touch of his forehead upon the stone before him awakens the silent form
of a woman who remains imprisoned in the stone. In this group one is
impressed with the expression of the inseparableness with which the
man's thought clings to his forehead; for it is his thought that lives
and is always present before him, the thought which takes shape in the

The work most nearly related to this in conception is the head that
musingly and silently frees itself from a block. "La Pensée" is a
transcendent vision of life that rises slowly out of the heavy sleep of
the stone.

"The Caryatid" is no more the erect figure that bears lightly or
unyieldingly the heaviness of the marble. A woman's form kneels
crouching, as though bent by the burden, the weight of which sinks with
a continuous pressure into all the figure's limbs. Upon every smallest
part of this body the whole stone lies like the insistence of a will
that is greater, older and more powerful, a pressure, which it is the
fate of this body to continue to endure. The figure bears its burden as
we bear the impossible in dreams from which we can find no escape. Even
the sinking together of the failing figure expresses this pressure; and
when a greater weariness forces the body down to a lying posture, it
will even then still be under the pressure of this weight, bearing it
without end. Such is the "Caryatid."

One may always explain, accompany and surround Rodin's works with
thoughts. For all to whom simple contemplation is too difficult and
unaccustomed a road to beauty there are other roads, detours leading
to meanings that are noble, great, complete. The infinite correctness
of these creations, the perfect balance of all their movements, the
wonderful inward justice of their proportions, their penetration into
life--all that makes them beautiful--gives them the strength of being
unsurpassable materializations of the ideas which the master called
into being when he named them. Rodin lived near his work and, like the
custodian of a Museum, continuously evolved from it new meanings. One
learns much from his interpretations but in the contemplation of these
works, alone and undisturbed, one gathers a still fuller and richer
understanding of them.

Where the first suggestion comes from some definite subject, where an
ancient tale, a passage from a poem, an historical scene or some real
person is the inspiration, the subject matter transforms itself more
and more into reality during the process of the work. Translated into
the language of the hands, the interpretations acquire entirely new
characteristics which develop into plastic fulfilment. The drawings
of Rodin prepare the way for the sculptural work by transforming and
changing the suggestions. In this Art, too, Rodin has cultivated his
own methods of expression. The individuality of these drawings--there
are many hundreds of them--presents an independent and original
manifestation of his artistic personality.

There are from an earlier period water colours with surprisingly
strong effects of light and shade, such as the famous "Homme au
Taureau", which reminds one of Rembrandt. The head of the young "St.
Jean Baptiste" and the shrieking mask for the "Genius of War"--all
these are sketches and studies which helped the artist to recognize
the life of surfaces and their relationship to the atmosphere. There
are drawings that are done with a direct certainty, forms complete
in all their contours, drawn in with many quick strokes of the pen;
there are others enclosed in the melody of a single vibrating outline.
Rodin, acceding to the wish of a collector, has illustrated with his
drawings one copy of the "Fleurs du Mal." To speak of expressing a
fine understanding of Baudelaire's verses, conveys no meaning; more is
conveyed if it is recalled that these poems in their fulness do not
admit of supplement. Yet in spite of this one feels an enhancement
where Rodin's lines interpret this work, such is the measure of the
overpowering beauty of these drawings. The pen and ink drawing that
is placed opposite the poem "La Mort des Pauvres" exceeds these great
verses with so simple and ever-growing a breadth of meaning that the
sweep of its lines seems to include the universal. This quality of
enhancement is also found in the dry-point etchings, in which the
course of infinitely tender lines appears to flow with an absolute
accuracy of movement over the underlying essence of form, like the
outer markings of some beautiful crystalline thing.

The strange documents of the momentary and of the unnoticeably
passing, originated at this time. Rodin assumed that if caught quickly,
the simple movements of the model when he believes himself unobserved,
contain the strength of an expression which is not surmised, because
one is not wont to follow it with intense and constant attention. By
not permitting his eyes to leave the model for an instant, and by
allowing his quick and trained hand free play over the drawing paper
Rodin seized an enormous number of never before observed and hitherto
unrecorded gestures of which the radiating force of expression was
immense. Conjoining movements that had been overlooked and unrecognized
as a whole, represented and contained all the directness, force and
warmth of animal life. A brush full of ochre outlined the contours with
quickly changing accentuation, modeled the enclosed surface with such
incredible force that the drawing appears like a figure in terra cotta.
And again a new depth was discovered full of unsurmised life; a depth
over which echoing steps had passed and which gave its waters only to
him whose hands possessed the magic wand that disclosed its secret.

In portraiture the pictorial expression of the theme belonged to the
preparation from which Rodin proceeded slowly to the completion of the
work. For erroneous as it is to see in Rodin's plastic art a kind
of Impressionism, it is the multitude of precisely and boldly seized
impressions that is always the great treasure from which he ultimately
chooses the important and necessary, in order to comprehend his work
in its perfect synthesis. As he proceeds from the bodies to the faces
it must seem to him as though he stepped from a wind-swept distance
into a room in which many men are gathered. Here everything is crowded
and dim and the mood of an interior predominates under the arches of
the brow and in the shadows of the mouth. Over the bodies there is
always change, an ebb and flood like the dashing of waves. The faces
possess an atmosphere like that of rooms in which many things have
happened, joyous and tragic incidents, experiences deadening or full of
expectation. No event has entirely passed, none has taken the place of
the other, one has been placed beside the other and has remained there
and has withered like a flower in a glass. But he who comes from the
open out of the great wind brings distance into the room.

The mask of "The Man with the Broken Nose" was the first portrait that
Rodin modeled. In this work his individual manner of portraying a
face is entirely formed. One feels his admitted devotion to reality,
his reverence for every line that fate has drawn, his confidence in
life that creates even where it disfigures. In a kind of blind faith
he sculptured "L'Homme au Nez Cassé" without asking who the man
was who lived again in his hands. He made this mask as God created
the first man, without intention of presenting anything save Life
itself--immeasurable Life. But he returned to the faces of men with
an ever-growing, richer and greater knowledge. He could not look upon
their features without thinking of the days that had left their impress
upon them, without dwelling upon the army of thoughts that worked
incessantly upon a face, as though it could never be finished. From a
silent and conscientious observation of life, the mature man, at first
groping and experimenting, became more and more sure and audacious
in his understanding and interpretation of the script with which the
faces were covered. He did not give rein to his imagination, he did
not invent, he did not neglect for a moment the hard struggle with his
tools. It would have been easy to surmount, as if with wings, these
difficulties. He walked side by side with his work over the far and
distant stretches that had to be covered, like the plough-man behind
his plough. While he traced his furrows, he meditated over his land,
the depth of it, the sky above it, the flights of the winds and the
fall of the rains; considered all that existed and passed by and
returned and ceased not to be. He recognized in all this the eternal,
and becoming less and less perplexed by the many things, he perceived
the one great thing for which grief was good, and heaviness promised
maternity, and pain became beautiful.

The interpretation of this perception began with the portraits, and
from that time penetrated ever deeper into his work. It is the last
step, the last cycle in his development. Rodin began slowly and with
infinite precaution entered upon this new road. He advanced from
surface to surface following Nature's laws. Nature herself pointed out
to him, as it were, the places in which he saw more than was visible.
He evolved one great simplification out of many confusions as Christ
brought unity into the confusion of a guilty people by the revelation
of a sublime parable. He fulfilled an intention of nature, completed
something that was helpless in its growth. He disclosed the coherences
as a clear evening following a misty day unveils the mountains which
rise in great waves out of the far distance.

Full of the vital abundance of his knowledge, he penetrated into the
faces of those that lived about him, like a prophet of the future.
This intuitive quality gives to his portraits the clear accuracy and at
the same time the prophetic greatness which rises to such indescribable
perfection in the figures of Victor Hugo and of Balzac. To create an
image meant to Rodin to seek eternity in a countenance, that part of
eternity with which the face was allied in the great course of things
eternal. Each face that he has modeled he has lifted out of the bondage
of the present into the freedom of the future, as one holds a thing
up toward the light of the sky in order to understand its purer and
simpler forms. Rodin's conception of Art was not to beautify or to
give a characteristic expression, but to separate the lasting from the
transitory, to sit in judgment, to be just.

Beside the etchings, his portrait work embraces a great number of
finished and masterly drawings. There are busts in plaster, in bronze,
in marble and in sand-stone, heads and masks in terra cotta. Portraits
of women occur again and again through all the periods of his work.
The famous bust of the Luxembourg is one of the earliest. This bust is
full of individual life, of a certain beautiful, womanly charm, but it
is surpassed in simplicity and concentration by many later works. It
is, perhaps, the only bust which possesses a beauty not absolutely
characteristic of Rodin's work. This portrait survives partly because
of a certain graciousness which has been hereditary for centuries
in French plastic art. It shines somewhat with the elegance of the
inferior sculptures of French tradition; it is not quite free from
that gallant conception of the "belle femme" beyond which the serious
and the deeply penetrating work of Rodin grew so quickly. One should
remember that he had to overcome the ancestral conception, had to
suppress an inborn capacity for this flowing grace in order to begin
his work quite simply. He must not cease to be a Frenchman; the master
builders of the cathedrals were also Frenchmen.

His later sculptures of women have a different beauty, more deeply
founded and less traditional. Rodin has, for the most part, executed
portraits of foreign women, especially American women. There are among
these busts some of wonderful craftsmanship, marbles that are like
pure and perfect antique cameos. Faces whose smiles play softly over
the features like veils that seem to rise and fall with every breath;
strangely half-closed lips and eyes which seem to look dreamily into
the bright effulgence of an everlasting moonlit night. To Rodin the
face of a woman seems to be a part of her beautiful body. He conceives
the eyes of the face to be eyes of the body, and the mouth the mouth
of the body. When he creates both face and body as a whole, the face
radiates so vital an expression of life that these portraits of women
seem prophetic.

The portraits of men are different. The essence of a man can be more
easily imagined to be concentrated within the limits of his face; there
are moments of calm and of inward excitement in which all life seems
to have entered into his face. Rodin chooses or rather creates these
moments when he models a man's portrait. He searches far back for
individuality or character, does not yield to the first impression,
nor to the second, nor to any of those following. He observes and
makes notes; he records almost unnoticeable moments, turnings and
semi-turnings of many profiles from many perspectives. He surprises his
model in relaxation and in effort, in his habitual as well as in his
impulsive expressions; he catches expressions which are but suggested.
He comprehends transitions in all their phases, knows from whence the
smile comes and why it fades. The face of man is to him like a scene
in a drama in which he himself takes part. Nothing that occurs is
indifferent to him or escapes him. He does not urge the model to tell
him anything, he does not wish to know aught save that which he sees.
He sees everything.

Thus a long time passes during the creation of each work. The
conception evolves partly through drawings, seized with a few strokes
of the pen or a few lines of the brush, partly from memory. For Rodin
has trained his memory to be a means of assistance as dependable as
it is comprehensive. During the hours in which the model poses he
perceives much more than he can execute. Often after the model has
left him the real work begins to take form from out the fulness of his
memory. The impressions do not change within it but accustom themselves
to their dwelling-place and rise from it into his hands as though they
were the natural gestures of these hands.

This manner of work leads to an intense comprehension of hundreds
and hundreds of moments of life. And such is the impression produced
by these busts. The many wide contrasts and the unexpected changes
which comprise man and man's continuous development here join together
with an inner strength. All the heights and depths of being, all the
climates of temperament of these men are concentrated and unfold
themselves on the hemispheres of their heads. There is the bust of
Dalou in whom a nervous fatigue vibrates side by side with a tenacious
energy. There is Henry Rochefort's adventurous mask, and there is
Octave Mirabeau in whom behind a man of action dawns a poet's dream
and longing, and Puvis de Chavannes, and Victor Hugo whom Rodin knows
so well; and there is above all the indescribably beautiful bronze
portrait bust of the painter Jean Paul Laurens which is, perhaps, the
most beautiful thing in the Luxembourg Museum. This bust is penetrated
by such deep feeling, there is such tender modeling of the surface, it
is so fine in carriage, so intense in expression, so moved and so awake
that it seems as if Nature had taken this work out of the sculptor's
hands to claim it as one of her most precious possessions. The gleam
and sparkle of the metal that breaks like fire through the smoke-black
patina coating adds much to make perfect the unique beauty of this work.

There is also a bust of Bastien Lepage, beautiful and melancholy with
the expression of the suffering of the man whose realization is a
continuous departure from his conception. This bust was executed for
Damvillers, the little home village of the painter, and was placed
there in the churchyard as a monument.

In their breadth of conception these busts of Rodin's have something
of the monumental in them. To this quality is added a greater
simplification of the surfaces, and a still more severe choice of the
necessary with a view to perspective and placement. The monuments which
Rodin has created approach more and more these requirements. He began
with the monument of Claude Gelée for Nancy, and there is a steep
ascent from this first interesting production to the grandiose triumph
of Balzac.

Several of the monuments by Rodin were sent to America. The most
mature of them was destroyed during the disturbances in Chile before
it reached its destination. This was the equestrian statue of General
Lynch. Like the lost masterpiece of Leonardo, which it resembled
perhaps in the force of expression and in the wonderfully vital unity
of man and horse, this statue was not to be preserved. A small copy
in plaster in Rodin's museum at Meudon shows that it was the plastic
portrait of a lean man who rises commandingly in his saddle, not in
the brutal, tyrannical manner of a condottiere but with the nervous
excitement of one who exercises the power of command only in office but
who is not ordinarily wont to use this authority. The forward-pointing
hand of the General rises out of the mass of the monument, out of man
and animal.

This gesture of command gives to the statue of Victor Hugo its
memorable power and majesty. The gesture of the aged man's strong, live
hand raised commandingly toward the ocean does not come from the poet
alone but descends from the summit of the whole group as though from a
mountain on which it had prayed before it spoke. Victor Hugo is here
the exile, the solitary of Guernsey. The muses that surround him are
like thoughts of his solitude become visible. Rodin has conveyed this
impression through the intensification and concentration of the figures
about the poet. By converging the points of contact Rodin has succeeded
in creating the impression that these wonderfully vibrant figures are
parts of the sitting man. They move about him like great gestures made
some time during his life, gestures that were so beautiful and young
that a goddess granted them the grace not to perish but to endure for
ever in the forms of beautiful women.

Rodin made sketches and studies of the figure of the poet. At the
time of the receptions in the Hotel Lusignan he observed from a
window and made notes of hundreds and hundreds of movements and of
the changing expressions of the animated face of the old man. These
preparations resulted in the several portraits of Hugo which Rodin
modeled. The monument itself embodied a still deeper interpretation.
All these single impressions he gathered together, and as Homer created
a perfect poem out of many rhapsodies, so he created from all the
pictures in his memory, this one portrait. And to this last picture
he gave the greatness of the legendary. Myth-like it might return
to a fantastically towering rock in the sea in whose strange forms
far-removed peoples see life asleep.

The most supreme instance of Rodin's power of exalting a past event to
the height of the imperishable, whenever historical subjects or forms
demand to live again in his art, is found perhaps in "The Citizens of
Calais." The suggestion for this group was taken from a few passages
in the chronicles of Froissart that tell the story of the City of
Calais at the time it was besieged by the English king, Edward the
Third. The king, not willing to withdraw from the city, then on the
verge of starvation, ultimately consents to release it if six of its
most noble citizens deliver themselves into the hands "that he may
do with them according to his will." He demands that they leave the
city bare-headed, clad only in their shirts, with a rope about their
necks and the keys of the city and of the citadel in their hands.
The chronicler describes the scene in the city. He relates how the
burgomaster, Messire Jean de Vienne, orders the bells to be rung and
the citizens to assemble in the market place. They hear the final
message and wait in expectation and in silence. Then heroes rise
among them, the chosen ones, who feel the call to die. The wailing
and weeping of the multitude rises from the words of the chronicler,
who seems to be touched for the moment and to write with a trembling
pen. But he composes himself once more and mentions four of the heroes
by name; two of the names he forgets. He says that one man was the
wealthiest citizen of the city and that another possessed authority
and wealth and "had two beautiful maidens for daughters"; of the third
he only knows that he was rich in possessions and heritage, and of
the fourth that he was the brother of the third. He reports that they
removed all their clothing save their shirts, that they tied ropes
about their necks and thus departed with the keys of the city and of
the citadel. He tells how they came to the King's camp and of how
harshly the King received them and how the executioner stood beside
them when the King, at the request of the Queen, gave them back their
lives. "He listened to his wife," says Froissart, "because she was very
pregnant." The chronicle does not continue further.

For Rodin this was sufficient material. He felt immediately that there
was a moment in this story when something portentous took place,
something independent of time and place, something simple, something
great. He concentrated all his attention upon the moment of the
departure. He saw how the men started on their way, he felt how through
each one of them pulsated once more his entire past life, he realized
how each one stood there prepared to give that life for the sake of the
old city. Six men rose before him, of whom no two were alike, only two
brothers were among them between whom there was, possibly, a certain
similarity. But each of them had resolved to live his last hour in his
own way, to celebrate it with his soul and to suffer for it with his
body, which clung to life. Rodin then no longer saw the forms of these
men. Gestures rose before him, gestures of renunciation, of farewell,
of resignation. Gestures over gestures. He gathered them together and
gave them form. They thronged about him out of the fulness of his
knowledge, a hundred heroes rose in his memory and demanded to be
sacrificed. And he concentrated this hundred into six. He modeled them
each by himself in heroic size to represent the greatness of their
resolution, modeled them nude in the appeal of their shivering bodies.

He created the old man with loose-jointed hanging arms and heavy
dragging step, and gave him the worn-out walk of old men and an
expression of weariness that flows over his face into the beard.

He created the man that carries the key, the man who would have lived
for many years to come, but whose life is condensed into this sudden
last hour which he can hardly bear. His lips are tightly pressed
together, his hands bite into the key. There is fire in his strength
and it burns in his defiant bearing.

He created the man who holds his bent head with both hands to compose
himself, to be once more alone.

He created the two brothers, one of whom looks backward while the other
bends his head with a movement of resolution and submission as though
he offered it to the executioner.

He created the man with the vague gesture whom Gustave Geffroy has
called "Le Passant". This man moves forward, but he turns back once
more, not to the city, not to those who are weeping, and not to those
who go with him: he turns back to himself. His right arm is raised,
bent, vacillating. His hands open in the air as though to let something
go, as one gives freedom to a bird. This gesture is symbolic of a
departure from all uncertainty, from a happiness that has not yet
been, from a grief that will now wait in vain, from men who live
somewhere and whom he might have met some time, from all possibilities
of to-morrow and the day after to-morrow; and from Death which he had
thought far distant, that he had imagined would come mildly and softly
and at the end of a long, long time.

This figure, if placed by itself in a dim, old garden, would be a
monument for all who have died young.

Thus Rodin has made each of these men live again the last concentrated
moment of life. Each figure is majestic in its simple greatness. They
bring to mind Donatello and, perhaps, Claux Sluter and his prophets in
the Chartreuse of Dijon.

It seems at first as though Rodin had done nothing more than gather
them together. He has given them the same attire, the shirt and the
rope, and has placed them together in two rows: the three that are
in the first row, are about to start forward, the other three turn
to the right and follow behind. The place that was decided upon for
the erection of the monument was the market place of Calais, the same
spot from which the tragic procession had formerly started. There the
silent group was to stand, raised by a low step above the common life
of the market place as though the fearful departure were always pending.

The City of Calais refused to accept a low pedestal because it was
contrary to custom. Rodin then suggested that a square tower, two
stories high and with simply-cut walls, be built near the ocean and
there the six citizens should be placed, surrounded by the solitude
of the wind and the sky. This plan, as might have been expected, was
declined, although it was in harmony with the character of the work.
If the trial had been made, there would have been an incomparable
opportunity for observing the unity of the group, which, although it
consisted of single figures, held closely together as a whole. The
figures do not touch one another, but stand side by side like the last
trees of a hewn-down forest united only by the surrounding atmosphere.
From every point of view the gestures stand out clear and great from
the dashing waves of the contours; they rise and fall back into the
mass of stone like flags that are furled. The entire impression of
this group is precise and clear. Like all of Rodin's compositions,
this one, too, appears to be a pulsating world enclosed within its
own boundaries. Beside the points of actual contact there is a kind
of contact produced by the surrounding atmosphere which diminishes,
influences and changes the character of the group. Contact may exist
between objects far distant from one another, like the conflux of forms
such as one sees sometimes in masses of clouds, where the interjacent
air is no separating abyss, but rather a transition, a softly-graduated

To Rodin the participation of the atmosphere in the composition has
always been of greatest importance. He has adapted all his figures,
surface after surface, to their particular space and environment; this
gives them the greatness and independence, the marvelous completeness
and life which distinguishes them from all other works. When
interpreting nature he found, as he intensified an expression, that,
at the same time, he enhanced the relationship of the atmosphere to
his work to such a degree that the surrounding air seemed to give more
life, more passion, as it were, to the embraced surfaces. A similar
effect may be observed in some of the animals on the cathedrals to
which the air relates itself in strange fashion; it seems to become
calm or storm according to whether it sweeps over emphasized or level
surfaces. When Rodin concentrates the surfaces of his works into
culminating points, when he uplifts to greater height the exalted or
gives more depth to a cavity, he creates an effect like that which
atmosphere produces on monuments that have been exposed to it for
centuries. The atmosphere has traced deeper lines upon these monuments,
has shadowed them with veils of dust, has seasoned them with rain and
frost, with sun and storm, and has thus endowed them with endurance so
that they may remain imperishable through many slowly-passing dusks and

This effect of atmosphere, which is the monumental principle of
Rodin's art, is wonderfully achieved in "The Citizens of Calais."
These sculptural forms seen from a distance are not only surrounded by
the immediate atmosphere, but by the whole sky; they catch on their
surfaces as with a mirror its moving distances so that a great gesture
seems to live and to force space to participate in its movement.

This impression is conveyed also by the figure of the slender youth who
kneels with outstretched, imploring arms. Rodin has called this figure
"The Prodigal Son," but it has recently received the name--from whom
or from whence no one knows--of "Prière". The gesture of this figure
raises it even beyond this name. This is no son kneeling before his
father. A God is necessary to him who thus implores and in him are all
who need this God. This Prayer in stone reaches out to such distance
that the figure seems to be withdrawn into a great isolation.

Such, too, is the "Balzac" to whom Rodin has given a greatness which,
perhaps, overtowers the figure of the writer. Rodin has seized upon the
essence of Balzac's being, has not confined himself to the limitations
of his personality, but has gone beyond into his most extreme and
distant possibilities. These mighty contours might have been formed in
the tombstones of by-gone nations.

For years Rodin was entirely absorbed in this figure. He visited
Balzac's home, he went to the landscapes of the Touraine that rise
continually in Balzac's books; he read his letters, he studied the
portraits of Balzac and he read his works again and again. On all
the intricate and intertwining roads of these works he was met by
the people of Balzac, whole families and generations, a world that
still seemed to receive life from its creator. Rodin saw that all
these thousands of people, no matter what their occupation or their
life, contained him who had created them. As one may perceive the
character and the mood of a play through the faces of an audience,
so he sought in all these faces him who still lived in them. He
believed like Balzac in the reality of his world and he became for
a time a part of it. He lived as though Balzac had created him also,
and he dwelt unnoticed among the multitude of his people. Thus he
gathered his impressions. The actual world appeared at this time
vague and unimportant. The daguerreotypes of Balzac offered only
general suggestions and nothing new. The face which they represented
was the one he had known from boyhood days. The one that had been
in the possession of Stéphan Mallarmé, which showed Balzac without
coat and suspenders, was the only one which was more characteristic.
Reminiscences of contemporaries helped him; the words of Théophile
Gautier, the notes of the Goncourts, and the beautiful essay by
Lamartine. Beside these pen portraits there was only the bust by David
in the Comédie Française and a small picture by Louis Boulanger.
Completely filled with the spirit of Balzac, Rodin, with the aid of
these auxiliaries, began to model the figure of the writer. He used
living models of similar proportions and completed seven perfectly
executed portraits in different positions. The models were thick-set,
medium-sized men with heavy limbs and short arms. After these studies
he created a Balzac much like the one in Nadar's daguerreotype. But he
felt this was not final. He returned to the description of Lamartine,
to the lines: "He had the face of an element," and "he possessed so
much soul that his heavy body seemed not to exist." Rodin felt that a
great part of his task was suggested in these sentences. He approached
nearer its solution by dothing the seven figures with monk's cowls, the
kind of garment that Balzac was wont to wear while at work. He created
a Balzac with a hood, a garb much too intimate, the figure much too
retired into the stillness of its disguise.

Rodin slowly developed form after form. At last he saw Balzac. He saw
a mighty, striding figure that lost all its heaviness in the fall of
its ample cloak. The hair brisded from the nape of the powerful neck.
And backward against the thick locks leaned the face of a visionary in
the intoxication of his dream, a face flashing with creative force: the
face of an element. This was Balzac in the fulness of his productivity,
the founder of generations, the waster of fates. This was the man
whose eyes were those of a seer, whose visions would have filled the
world had it been empty. This was the Balzac that Creation itself had
formed to manifest itself and who was Creation's boastfulness, vanity,
ecstasy and intoxication. The thrown-back head crowned the summit of
this figure as lightly as a ball is upheld by the spray of a fountain.
There was no sense of weight, but a magnificent vitality in the free,
strong head.

Rodin had seen in a moment of large comprehension and tragic
exaggeration his Balzac and thus he created him. The vision did not
fade, it only changed.

The comprehensiveness which gave breadth to Rodin's monumental works
gave to the others also a new beauty; it gave them a peculiar nearness.
There are among the more recent works small groups that are striking
because of their concentration and the wonderful treatment of the
marble. The stones preserve, even in the midst of the day, that
mysterious shimmer which white things exhale in the twilight. This
radiance is not the result of the vibrant quality of the points of
contact alone, but is due in part to the flat ribbands of stone that
lie between the figures like small bridges which connect one form
with the other over the deepest clefts in the modeling. These ribband
fillings are not incidental, but are placed there to prevent too sharp
an outline. They preserve in the forms that otherwise would appear too
clear cut an effect of roundness; they gather the light like vases
that gently and continuously overflow. When Rodin seeks to condense
the atmosphere about the surfaces of his works, the stone appears to
almost dissolve in the air, the marble is the compact, fruitful kernel,
and its last softest contour the vibrating air. The light touching
the marble loses its will, it does not penetrate into the stone, but
nestles close, lingers, dwells in the stone.

This closing up of unessential clefts is an approach to the relief.
Rodin planned a great work in relief in which there were to be effects
of light such as he achieved in the smaller groups. He constructed
a column about which a broad ribband of relief winds upward. This
encircling ribband conceals a staircase which ascends under arched
vaultings. The figures in this ascending relief are modeled and placed
so as to receive an effect of life and vibrance from the atmosphere and

A plastic art will some time rise which will disclose the secret
of twilight as it is related to those sculptures that stand in the
vestibules of old cathedrals.

This "Monument of Work" represents a history of work which develops
upon these slowly rising reliefs. The long line begins in a lower
chamber or crypt with the figures of those who have grown old in mines.
The procession traces its steps through all the phases of work, from
those who work in the roar and red glow of furnaces to those who work
in silence in the light of a great idea: from the hammers to the
brains. Two figures guard the entrance, Day and Night, and upon the
summit of this tower stand two winged forms to symbolize the Blessings
descending from the luminous heights. Rodin did not conceive work as a
monumental figure or a great gesture; for work is something near, it
takes place in the shops, in the rooms, in the heads, in the dark.

He knows, for he, too, worked; he worked incessantly; his life passed
like a single working day.

Rodin had several studios, some that are well-known in which visitors
and letters found him. There were others in out-of-the-way, secluded
places of which no one knew. These rooms were like cells, bare, poor
and grey with dust, but their poverty was like the great, grey poverty
of God out of which trees bud in March. Something of the Spring was in
each of these rooms, a silent promise and a deep seriousness.

In one of these studios "The Tower of Work" has risen. Now that it is
accomplished, it is time to speak of its significance. Some time after
this monument has been erected it will be recognized that Rodin willed
nothing that was beyond his art. The body of work here manifests itself
as did formerly the body of love:--it is a new revelation of life.
This creator lived so completely in his conceptions, so entirely in
the depths of his work, that inspiration or revelation came to him only
through the medium of his art. New life in the ultimate sense meant to
him, new surfaces, new gestures. Thus to him the meaning of life became
simple, he could err no more.

With his own development Rodin has given an impetus to all the arts
in this confused age. Some time it will be realized what has made
this great artist so supreme. He was a worker whose only desire
was to penetrate with all his forces into the humble and difficult
significance of his tools. Therein lay a certain renunciation of Life,
but in just this renunciation lay his triumph, for Life entered into
his work.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Auguste Rodin" ***

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