Rodin's 'Monument to Balzac' (click to embiggen)

Considered the first ‘truly modern’ sculpture, Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of Monument to Balzac graces the Hirshorn Sculpture Garden on the capitol’s Mall.   It is always striking to see the dramatic portrayal of a vigorous mind embodied in the representation of a man acting in time – and here it reaches many people to tell its message.

Rodin took seven years to study his subject and make provisional attempts, then finally complete the commission he’d taken.   The work was developed over that time as non-representational and took the direction in which it eventuated – a spirit in its form as statue of the man.

Finally in 1898, Rodin presented a plaster study of the Balzac statue in the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. The sculpture was not received well by the critics; Rodin took the negativity as a personal attack. Many disliked the grotesque stature of the figure while others criticized the work to be very similar to that of the Italian impressionistMedardo Rosso. As well, reports surfaced before the unveiling of the sculpture regarding anticipated dismay over the final outcome of the artwork. The Société des Gens de Lettres decided to disregard the commission to Rodin and not accept the sculpture.

Regardless of rejection from his commissionaires, contemporaries such as Paul CézanneToulouse-Lautrec andClaude Monet supported Rodin in his point of view. A backlash against the rejection along with a petition signed by supporters in the artistic community proceeded, yet in the end, Rodin decidedly declined any bids for the work and placed the plaster artwork in his home at Meudon.

In the end, the statue was moved into the home intended on the Boulevard de Montparnasse.   Casts of it are in several places, which include the Hirshorn sculpture garden.

Representation of a person rather than a portrayal of his appearance was a shock to the audience that received it originally, but over time had an effect on our standards.   While the figure of Balzac speaks to us of inspiration and genius, its conception broke through a barrier to visions in the world of art.  Rodin gave artists a new direction that opened up expression they took in – and developed into new spirits they could work with in pure artistry not seen before Balzac.