March 31, 2021

Auguste Rodin at the Gates of Hell

Auguste Rodin, source: Wikimedia Commons

 

The year 1880 was a turning point for the oeuvre of Auguste Rodin. It was then that a new chapter began, both in his private life and in his career. Rodin seems to have reached his full artistic awareness by then. He became a creator, a visionary who consistently pursued the goals he set for himself. He became very interested in the literature that permeated his works through and through. On rue de l'Université in Paris, he opened his atelier, which he maintained until his death in 1917. It was there that he began working on one of the most important and iconic works of his era.

 

Auguste Rodin, "Gate of Hell", Kunsthaus in Zürichu, source: Wikimedia Commons

 

The "Gate of Hell", was commissioned in 1880 as an elaborate, decorative gateway to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which was to be opened in Paris. Years earlier, in 1875, Rodin traveled to Italy, where he became acquainted mainly with the art of the Renaissance. He was greatly influenced by one of the doors to the San Giovanni Baptistery in Florence, created by an outstanding artist - Lorenzo Ghiberti. In the first half of the 15th century, he created a structure that Michelangelo himself called "Paradise Gates". Several centuries later, Auguste Rodin began work on "The Gate of Hell", a work corresponding to the structure of his great predecessor, although presenting a completely different vision of the human condition, far from Renaissance humanism. In the following years, Rodin successively modified, reworked and supplemented his concept. This complicated process was accompanied by numerous three-dimensional studies and models. A whole series of individual elements were created, which Rodin skillfully combined into a harmonious whole with considerable power of impact. In his project, he started with Dante's "Divine Comedy", depicting the first part of the piece - the terrifying "Inferno". Over the decades, he added threads from other literary works to the composition, for example from Charles Baudelaire's "Les Fleurs du Mal". In 1881 the figures of Adam and Eve were created, as well as perhaps the most important figure in his career of "The Thinker". As a tragic figure, "Le Penseur" depicted an individual lost in the world, absorbed in reflections on his own existence.

 

A year later, he created "The Kiss", which until around 1886 remained an integral part of the "Gate of Hell". It expressed in its structure the essence of feeling. The figures of a woman and a man are joined here in a loving embrace filled with the hottest emotions. The following year, the artist met Camile Claudele, for whom he apparently had similar feelings as in his work. The nineteen-year-old girl fascinated him with her complex personality and incredible talent, which marked the further career of Rodin. Their stormy romance and dramatic break-up echoed widely in the Parisian bohemian community. Practically until his death, for about thirty-seven years, the sculptor created his monumental work. He put his whole soul in it and devoted his life to it. He alternately abandoned the work and returned to it. During this time, he created about two hundred figures that made up the entire structure. In 1900, during an individual exhibition in Paris, he presented selected fragments of "The Gate of Hell" to a wide audience. The plaster model he created is now in the place for which it was intended, namely the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. It was not until the 1920s that the four versions currently stored in Paris, Zurich, Tokyo and Philadelphia were cast in bronze for the first time. The individual elements of the work began to live their own lives over time, which, moreover, reflects the concept of the author himself, who has a special attitude to "Three Shadows", "The Thinker" and "The Kiss".