The Rodin Bronzes page contains images of one of only 12 castings of the most famous Rodin bronze:
The Burghers of Calais, taken in various light and at different angles, plus images of sculptural studies for
the Burghers of Calais. Included are a number of images of Rodin’s Monument to Balzac and The Thinker.

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François-Auguste-René Rodin is generally considered to be the progenitor of modern sculpture. Rejected from the École des Beaux-Arts, he developed a naturalistic approach focused on character and emotion, and detested the "academic" rules of the Academy. His first full-scale work, The Age of Bronze, which was executed while the artist was working in Brussels after returning from two months in Italy where he studied Michelangelo and Donatello, was astoundingly realistic and prompted accusations of surmoulage (taking a cast from a living model). He was eventually exonerated by a committee of sculptors after photographs of the model proved his case. His next male nude, St. John the Baptist Preaching, was made larger than life to avoid a repeat of the charge. Controversy continued to follow Rodin throughout his career, primarily because his work clashed with traditional figure sculptures, which were decorative, thematic, and generally composed to a formula. Rodin departed from traditional themes of mythology and allegory, modeling the body with realism. He was an incredibly prolific artist who created several thousand busts, figures, sculptural fragments and reliefs over a period of more than five decades.


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Burghers of Calais, Auguste Rodin, 1889 (cast 1968), French, bronze.

By law, no more than 12 casts can be made of work by Rodin.
This was the 10th cast (the first cast was made in 1895 for Calais).

The Burghers of Calais (Les Monument aux Bourgeois de Calais) is one of the most famous sculptures executed by Auguste Rodin. It was commissioned by the City of Calais in 1885 as a monument of an incident in 1347 during the Hundred Years War. The town council of the port city of Calais wanted to pay tribute to the six Burghers who had risked their lives to save the citizens of Calais after the 11 month siege of King Edward III of England, which had reduced the city to the brink of starvation and thirst.

To save the population Edward required six of the leading citizens to present themselves as hostages in plain garments with nooses around their necks, bearing the keys to the city and citadel. Edward intended to kill the Burghers, but according to the medieval writer Jean Froissart, his pregnant wife Philippa of Hainault intervened, convincing Edward to spare them claiming that their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child. Rodin focused on all six Burghers rather than just the leading citizen, Eustache de Saint-Pierre, as had the previous artists and as the city council originally intended. Rodin accorded each of the six Burghers equal status by placing them all at the same height, and faced them in different directions to require the viewer to circumnavigate the sculpture to be able to appreciate his work in its entirety.


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This page contains images of the group and several bronze studies, taken from different angles and in different light.

The Burghers of Calais was Rodin's first completed major public monument. Rather than submitting a proposal for a solitary sculpture of Eustache Saint-Pierre as originally requested by the city council, Rodin read Froissart’s Chronicles describing the event, and saw the scene as described by Froissart. When the mayor of Calais visited Rodin’s studio, he was impressed, and recommended Rodin to the council. Rodin portrayed the six Burghers at a unique psychological moment, as they are about to leave the city to march to the camp of King Edward III to surrender the keys to the city, and probably their lives.

Rodin’s sculpture consists of six figures standing on the same level in various positions and facing in different directions. They wear the same plain garments, and have similar physiques, however they exhibit different facial expressions: sorrow, despair, and determination. The figures in front are (left to right): Pierre de Wissant (detail and studies below), Eustache Saint-Pierre, and Jean d’Aire. The figures in back are (left to right): Jeanne de Fiennes (detail and studies below), Jacques de Wissant (with his hand in front of his face) and Andrieu d’Andres (with his head buried in his hands).


Rodin Burghers of Calais X2648

The first maquette submitted to the council in 1884 depicted the six burghers in a compact cube, with four figures densely packed in the center and one at each side, connected by a heavy rope and elevated on a high pedestal. In early 1885 the council decided to give Rodin the commission, but insisted that a second maquette, one-third of the final size, had to be submitted prior to the completion of the monumental sculpture. In the second maquette, the Burghers remained in a cube, but they were now modeled separately, with space between them, and all were on the same level, without a pedestal and with Eustache Saint-Pierre in the center. When he submitted the second maquette, the council was critical, objecting to Rodin's failure to follow the rules established by the École des Beaux-Arts for heroic monumental sculpture, as well as the defeated posture and level layout of the figures, preferring the accepted pyramidal composition of the Jacques-Louis David method from the early 1800s. Rodin was adamant that the prevailing academic style produced works which are cold, static and conventional, and the mayor campaigned on his side. The city council finally relented and authorized Rodin to proceed with the project.


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Burghers of Calais, Auguste Rodin, 1889 (cast 1968), French, bronze.

Rodin worked feverishly on the details of the figures, separately modeling hands, feet, bodies and heads, spending most of his time on the hands. He produced several hundred studies for the group, isolated figures and parts of figures, and over 250 of these were later cast in bronze. He combined and recombined the parts until he was satisfied, and the individual figures were finished by 1888. The plaster model of Les Monument aux Bourgeois de Calais was exhibited to the public in 1889 at the Monet/Rodin Exhibition in Paris to great acclaim both from the public and critics, but the mayor of Calais was not re-elected and the new mayor was not inclined to support the project. In 1893, Mayor Dewavrin was re-elected and his support along with that of the public enabled the council to complete the national subscription for the financing of the final casting. The 5000 pound monument was unveiled in Calais in June 1895 in front of 30,000 people, in the greatest official triumph of Rodin’s career.

Rodin was not pleased with the original display of the Calais sculpture group as it was erected on a tall pedestal enclosed by an iron fence, rather than on a low base in front of the town hall. It was installed as he wished in 1924, seven years after Rodin died.


Rodin Saint-Pierre d’Aire detail X2848c

Detail of the leading Burgher, Eustache de Saint-Pierre (left) and the second to volunteer, Jean d’Aire,
with the key at right. On the far left, Jacques de Wissant dramatically covers his face with his right hand.

Eustache de Saint-Pierre was the first of the Burghers to risk his life by volunteering to hand over the keys to Edward III. The oldest of the group, Eustache Saint-Pierre was considered the core figure and was the focus of previous works. Rodin rejected the established conventions of public sculpture, refusing to execute a pyramidal monument raising Eustache Saint-Pierre above the other figures and portrayed the men not as glorious heroes, but as troubled and isolated individuals brought together by their anguish and common purpose, and standing on the same level, with no clear indication of which is the leader of the group.

The Burghers are dressed in plain garments made of sackcloth, with nooses around their necks. Their hands are proportionally quite large, and their figures are emaciated and weak from famine. Each face exhibits a different response to their situation.


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Rodin Burghers of Calais X2660

In contravention to the established rules of the École des Beaux-Arts, Rodin’s Burghers of Calais challenged tradition in every possible way. Rather than portraying Eustache Saint-Pierre as a heroic figure atop a pyramidal composition on a pedestal, with (or without) the other five Burghers in reduced positions below him, Rodin chose to portray the six figures in a naturalistic manner, standing on the same level on a low base, occupying the space of the viewer and enhancing the emotional impact.

The composition of the Burghers of Calais reconciles the individuality of each figure with the unity of the whole. "Each figure is allotted the amount of space he physically and psychologically needs and no more." To study the gestures of each figure, the viewer must move around the burghers counterclockwise to best see their movement and appreciate the relationship of each to the other and to the whole. The features and proportions are distorted to intensify the expressiveness of the figures struggling with their conflicting thoughts of fear, indecision, anguish, and nobility. Note the disproportionate size of the hands and feet.


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Rodin Burghers Pierre de Wissant 3367

At left, detail of Pierre de Wissant from the Burghers of Calais shown in the low contrast light of a cloudy day. At right, a diagonal view of the sculptural group with emphasis on Pierre de Wissant and Jean d’Aire, taken in the early afternoon on a sunny day. Below, a low contrast close view of Pierre de Wissant taken from a lower angle at noon on a very bright but overcast day.


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Following his older brother Jacques, Pierre de Wissant was the fourth burgher to volunteer and the second youngest. Rodin made a number of studies of the head and body of Pierre de Wissant, both nude and draped, and treated the neck, muscles, hands, drapery and position of the rope differently. As can be seen by comparison with the nude and final dressed studies  below, his final figure used a composite neck, elongated over his figure from the second maquette but not as long as that on the nude study, with tendons strained much like those of the dressed study, and using the hand position from the dressed study.


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Rodin Burghers Pierre de Wissant 3873

Detail of the head, neck and right arm of Pierre de Wissant, taken in low-contrast light in the
late afternoon on a cloudy day, and in higher-contrast light in the mid-afternoon on a sunny day.
Compare the final figure with the same view of the nude and dressed bronze studies shown below.


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Rodin Pierre de Wissant nude 3366

Pierre de Wissant, Vetu (dressed), Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. I
Pierre de Wissant, Nude, Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. II

A comparison of the dressed and nude bronze studies for Pierre de Wissant, showing the head, neck, right arm and hand. Note the different tilt of the head (slightly further back and canted toward the right shoulder on the nude), the longer neck on the nude with smoother and more prominent rendering of the tendons, and the different tilt of the wrist and rotation of the hand.


Rodin Pierre de Wissant dressed 3369


Rodin Pierre de Wissant dressed X2652

Detail of the bronze study of Pierre de Wissant, dressed. Note the emaciated character of the figure, portraying the results of the famine caused by the eleven month long siege of Calais. The figure is a composite of many individual studies of heads, hands, bodies and feet, and was modeled and executed nude before being clothed in the voluminous Gothic drapery.


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Rodin Pierre de Wissant dressed HS7364

With this figure, Rodin explores the highly emotional contemplation of the idea of his own death by a young man in his prime. Rodin created a tremendous amount of drama with the head and neck, the facial expression, and the arm and hand position.


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Pierre de Wissant, Nude, Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. II

Two images of the nude study for Pierre de Wissant, taken in different light.
Note the more elongated neck with smoother tendons and the hand position.
Also, note the emaciated body after 11 months of famine caused by the siege.

Rodin created a number of models for each figure, including several studies of the full figures both nude and dressed as well as the separate hands, heads, busts, etc. The 1885 nude study had an entirely different face and hair treatment, and although the right arm was raised in a similar position, both hands had the fingers curled touching the thumb. This nude study was done after the figure had been refined to nearly its final state, but Rodin was still experimenting with the length of the neck, the character of the straining tendons of the neck, the head position and the position of the right hand and wrist.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes X2664

Jean de Fiennes, Vetu (dressed), Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. I

There are over a hundred surviving three-dimensional studies which Rodin created for the Burghers of Calais, including hands, feet, heads, headless figures, facial masks, and complete figures, both nude and dressed as well as the two maquettes. The bodies of the six Burghers were created separately from the heads, and he created the individual clay working models at high speed while watching a group of nude models "selected for their strength of character and a maturity hardened by arduous physical labor or combat". He then created the full-size studies nude before draping the figures. This is the Grand Model study.

The name Jean de Fiennes does not appear in Froissart's Chronicles, where only four of the burghers are mentioned specifically by name. The names of the two unidentified burghers, Jean de Fiennes and Andrieu d'Andres, were discovered in the Vatican Library in 1863. Jeanne de Fiennes was the youngest of the Burghers, and Rodin modeled his figure with arms outspread and mouth open, as if he were questioning his decision to sacrifice himself for the safety of the people of Calais.


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Rodin Jean de Fiennes 7733

Jean de Fiennes went through the most changes of any of the figures from the first to the second maquettes and through the studies to the Grand Model. The shape of the head, the face and facial expression, the position of the head, body, arms and legs, hands and feet all changed through several studies to the second maquette, when the general position and stance were defined but everything else was still to be refined. The final Grand Model had long wavy hair, lighter drapery with vertical folds revealing the feet, and an expression with lips parted and brow furrowed, that along with the position of the hands gives the figure a doubting disposition as he looks back towards Calais, which he may never see again.


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Rodin Jean de Fiennes HS7372

A series of frontal angles and close portraits of the bronze study for Jean de Fiennes, dressed,
showing the hand positions, drapery and hair, and the furrowed brow and parted lips of the figure.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes HS7371

The combination of the theatrical gestures and his facial expression masterfully impart the doubt which
Jean de Fiennes must have felt when departing Calais towards his uncertain fate at the hands of Edward III.


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Rodin Jean de Fiennes X2650

Detail of the facial expression of Rodin’s Grand Model study of Jean de Fiennes, for the Burghers of Calais..


Rodin Jean de Fiennes X2666

The Grand Model study of Jean de Fiennes for the Burghers of Calais, standing in the mid-afternoon shadows.


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Jean de Fiennes, Vetu (dressed), Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. I

The youngest Burgher, doubting his decision, looks back towards Calais as he departs to his uncertain fate.


Rodin Monument to Balzac 1282

Monument to Balzac, Auguste Rodin, 1897, French, bronze, Edition of 12, Cast No. 8

The most controversial of Rodin’s sculptures, which caused a public scandal that literally divided France.

Given the power and brutality of the human form in Auguste Rodin’s Monument to Balzac, it is no surprise to find that the work was universally rejected by all but the most progressive viewers upon its first exhibition in 1898. The sculpture, intended as a representation of Balzac’s persona rather than as a physical likeness, is an expressive, potent portrait of the embattled writer, and it took Rodin seven years of meticulous study to complete. Its action, its plays with light, and its spectacular vitality, all cornerstones of Rodin’s technique, broke entirely with the sculptural traditions of the past and nearly singlehandedly brought the medium into the 20th century. Rodin himself said that the work was beyond compare, claiming that it was “the sum of my whole life, the result of a lifetime of effort, the mainspring of my aesthetic theory. From the day of its conception, I was a changed man.”


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Rodin Monument to Balzac 7717

Honoré de Balzac, the vastly influential French author of the series of 91 stories and novels entitled The Human Comedy, died in 1850, but it was not until 1891 that Rodin was commissioned by the Société des Gens de Lettres de France to sculpt the monument, on the recommendation of the new president Émile Zola. Rodin immersed himself in the study of Balzac, reading his works, studying photographs and lithographs, sculptures, paintings and drawings of the author, and even tracked down his tailor and had a pair of pants and a waistcoat made to Balzac's measurements. Rodin created over 50 studies simultaneously, most of them being heads, with some headless bodies, and a number of complete figures in various dressed and undressed states. His Balzac in Dominican Robe created the fundamental version of the clothing Rodin would use for the final figure. The Final Study joined the Naked Balzac (with altered arm positions) with the Monumental Head and a drastic reworking of the monk's garb of Balzac in Dominican Robe, with smoother drapery and hanging sleeves leading up to the massive head.

By 1893, some members of the society were concerned that Rodin would be unable to complete the statue in time for the Balzac Centennial in 1899, and sent a committee to Rodin's studio, where they were shocked by "a strange Balzac in the attitude of a wrestler". Emile Zola calmed the critics and persuaded them to give Rodin another year. In 1894 the committee again visited Rodin's studio, and declared the statue "artistically inadequate". The new president of the society was shocked when a motion was passed to force Rodin to deliver the statue in 24 hours or forfeit his commission, and along with Rodin's friends persuaded the committee to give Rodin another year. The opposition persisted and legal actions against Rodin were filed. The president and several other members of the society resigned in protest. The scandal soon became public, and the Balzac affair became the passionate artistic issue among Paris intellectuals. The attacks against Rodin grew vicious.


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Rodin Monument to Balzac HS7378

The Balzac scandal soon became aligned with the infamous Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer in the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War, was made a scapegoat to explain the French defeat, and was convicted of treason and imprisoned for life for transmitting secrets to the German Embassy based upon faulty evidence and anti-Semitism. Two years after Dreyfus was imprisoned on Devil's Island, evidence came to light that an Army major was the culprit, but some General Staff officers in the French Army suppressed the evidence against the major, and he was acquitted in a two day trial. The Army then accused Dreyfus of additional charges using falsified documents. Émile Zola wrote an open letter, J'Accuse, which was published in a French newspaper and spread the word of the military framing Dreyfus, causing an intense political and judicial scandal that divided French society. The Balzac scandal divided along the same lines.

Rodin's vision was to "represent Balzac in his study, breathless, hair in disorder, eyes lost in a dream...", and he worked constantly to render the drapery. Balzac always wore an ample robe of white cashmere lined with white silk at home, cut like a monk's habit and tied with a belt of knotted silk. When the final sculpture was unveiled, many of Rodin's detractors from the lengthy public scandal surrounding the sculpture (see the Rodin page) labeled the statue a seal, a sack of potatoes, or a pig. The Monument to Balzac was rejected by the Société des Gens de Lettres de France, and Rodin withdrew from the controversy with dignity, refusing to sell the statue and returning his commission. After this experience, Rodin never again completed a public commission. The first bronze cast was erected in Paris in 1939, 22 years after Rodin's death.


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The Thinker, Auguste Rodin, 1880 and 1902, French, bronze, Edition of 12, Cast No. 11

When conceived in 1880 in its original size (approximately 28 inches) as the crowning element of The Gates of Hell , seated on the tympanum, The Thinker was entitled The Poet. He represented Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy which had inspired The Gates of Hell, leaning forward to observe the circles of Hell while meditating on his work. The pose of this figure is based on Carpeaux’s Ugolino and the seated portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici carved by Michelangelo.

While remaining in place on the monumental Gates of Hell, The Thinker was exhibited individually in 1888 and thus became an independent work. Enlarged in 1902, its monumental version proved even more popular and has become one of the most celebrated sculptures ever known. Numerous casts exist worldwide, cast in multiple versions at different sizes.


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The Thinker originally overlooked the center of the Gates of Hell and was 70 cm tall (~28 in.).
Seated below the Three Shades at the base of the pediment over the Gates, The Thinker drew
a lot of attention, and like many other figures for the Gates, it became an independent sculpture.

The clay model of The Thinker was completed in 1880-81, where it was the model for the lintel below the pediment, overlooking the monumental Gates of Hell. The Gates were commissioned from Rodin when he was an impoverished artist without academic training or awards, and became his most important and most prodigious work. The Gates were never cast for the originally intended position in the Museum of Decorative Arts, as that museum was never built. Instead, the Gare d'Orsay railroad station was built on the site, the same year that Rodin first exhibited the plaster version of the Gates of Hell in 1900, and the government never ordered the completion and casting. Rodin continued to work on the project for 37 years until his death in 1917. After Rodin's death, five privately-funded bronze casts were made and one for the Rodin Museum in Paris. The only cast done via the lost-wax method specified by Rodin is the one commissioned by B. Gerald Cantor, a tremendously committed collector of Rodin sculptures. This casting toured the US before arriving at its permanent home at Stanford University.


Rodin Gates of Hell Stanford


Rodin Gates of Hell Zurich

At left, the lost-wax casting of the Gates of Hell commissioned by B. Gerald Cantor, now at Stanford University.
At right is the casting located in the Kuntsthaus Zurich Gallery of the Kunstlergesellschaft in Zurich, Switzerland.

Rodin was inspired by Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise at the Baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence, Italy.


Rodin Gates of Hell detail

Detail of The Thinker overlooking the Gates of Hell at Stanford University.

Public criticism, which was derived from the perception that Rodin had not completed the Gates and that they were not ready for delivery, drew strong defenses from Rodin and others. At the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900, Rodin held his first major retrospective called Exposition Rodin, where he exhibited the plaster model of the Gates, along with 170 of his works including many sculptures from the Gates of Hell. Rodin was hailed as the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo and Donatello and he sold over 200,000 francs worth of sculptures, taking orders from museums and collectors from around the world. The Gates were not cast until after Rodin's death in 1917, and contain a number of reliefs and sculptures such as the Thinker and the other protruding sculptural elements which were not part of the 1900 Gates, but which were in his studio since at least 1900. These were all assembled just before the death of Rodin by M. Bénédite, who would become the first director of the Rodin Museum.


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The Thinker is the 11th casting of Rodin’s monumental solo sculpture derived from The Poet, a representation of Dante Alighieri overlooking the Gates of Hell (according to the Rodin Museum). The inspiration was Dante’s 1321 poem The Divine Comedy. The original sculpture was first named The Thinker by foundry workers who noted its similarity to the Michelangelo sculpture of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Il Penseroso (The Thinker), and Rodin decided to treat the sculpture as an independent work at a larger size (73 inches). He would cast and patinate five monumental versions before he died. 25 monumental bronze casts exist, as well as a number of plaster and study-size castings. At least seven or eight  were cast from the original set of enlargements which Rodin had begun before his death. This was the eleventh casting, done from an original enlargement.


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Rodin The Thinker X2644

Designed to be seen from below, The Thinker is displayed on a fairly tall plinth. Rodin's original
28 inch model was traced using an enlarging and reducing pantograph called the Collas machine,
invented in 1836 by the French engineer Achille Collas, then further modified and with a technique
that was developed by Rodin’s assistant Henri Lebosse. Using the Lebosse process, the original
model was "traced" onto another block of clay, and in the process, enlarged to monumental size.
After its first exhibition, a public petition was circulated to have the colossal sculpture purchased
for donation to the people of France. It was cast and placed outside of the Pantheon in Paris.


Rodin The Thinker X2669

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin, 1880 and 1902, French, bronze, Edition of 12, Cast No. 11

The image of The Thinker is not that of a passive dreamer, but of a man actively engaged in creative thought. Thinking has been expressed not only through the meditative attitude of the body, but through the effort of every muscle. As Rodin said, "What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fists and gripping toes."


Click the Display Composite above to visit the Norton Simon Museum Paintings page.


Click the Display Composite above to visit the Norton Simon Museum Sculptures page.


Click the Display Composite above to visit the Rodin compilation (LACMA and Norton Simon Museum).

The Rodin Compilation Portfolio contains two pages with 88 images compiled from the
LA County Museum of Art and Norton Simon Museum sections plus an Overview Index.
The pages display the Burghers of Calais & Studies; and the Thinker and other Figures.