From the Industrial Revolution to World War I, C. 1850–1914


Is there such as thing as Impressionist sculpture?

Although he never called himself an Impressionist, the work of highly acclaimed French sculptor Auguste Rodin (18401917) achieves many of the same goals as the work of the Impressionist painters: to capture a sense of fleeting time and capture movement. Rodin’s sculpture is characterized by rugged Realism and expressive poses, as exemplified in his iconic marble and bronze sculpture, The Thinker. But, Impressionist values can be seen in his controversial sculpture, Monument to Balzac, which Rodin created over seven years, after a commission from the French Society of Men of Letters in 1891 to commemorate Honoré de Balzac, the French literary giant. This work captures the spirit of Balzac and the monumentality of his creative genius. Like Impressionist paintings, it takes on an unfinished form and emphasizes surface texture. When Rodin shared a plaster model of the sculpture in 1898, it was heavily criticized and the finished bronze and marble caste was not completed until after his death. Despite the initial criticism, the sculpture, and Rodin’s overall body of work, is considered to be among the most innovative and significant examples of nineteenth-century sculpture, and Rodin is credited with foreshadowing modernism. Therefore, not only can Rodin’s work be considered Impressionist, but it also ushered in a new era of sculptural innovation.

Auguste Rodin’s impressionist sculpture of the French writer Balzac explores themes of creativity and dynamism with its rough texture and unfinished style. (Art courtesy The Art Archive / Musée Rodin Paris / Superstock.)


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