Rodin, a Cadaver, and the scandal that nearly derailed him

PARIS — When a young soldier undresses in a late 19th-century Belgian art studio to model for a struggling sculptor named Auguste Rodin, neither of them anticipate the buzz that the resulting masterpiece would soon be out — echoes of that still resonate nearly a century and a half later.

Sculpture of scandal” and “Rodin, a perfume of notoriety” was one of the headlines that appeared in the French media just a few years ago in celebration of marking a century since the artist’s death.

The statue in question is Bronze Age (L’Age d’airin), a breathtaking life-size nude that, despite its controversial beginnings, eventually cemented Rodin’s place in history as the father of modern sculpture.


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Rodin was then living in Brussels, having just returned from a tour around Italy, where he was particularly touched by the works of Michelangelo. In his book, Rodin: Biography, the late author and journalist Frederic V. Grunfeld describes the artist’s trip to Italy as “one of the most formative experiences of his life.”

“You will not be surprised if I tell you that, from my first hour in Florence, I studied Michelangelo,” he wrote in a letter to longtime partner Rose Beuret. “And I believe the great magician is telling me some of his secrets…”

Rodin, who was three times rejected from Paris’ prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, later credited the Great Renaissance with “liberating me from academia” in part because of his descriptions about actual, natural poses instead of artificial poses.

This focus on realism guided Rodin as he worked in his studio for a regular 18-month period in the presence of model, 22-year-old Auguste Neyt.

Neyt recalls, as quoted in Grunfeld’s book. “It’s not an easy thing to do. Rodin didn’t want to strain; in fact, he loathes academic ‘posture’… The owner wants the ‘natural’ action taken from real life. “

The statue originally had a headband and a spear in its left hand, both of which were removed by Rodin before presenting it at the Brussels Cercle Artistique in 1877. He called it Le Vaincu (defeated or conquered), in reference to the country’s embarrassing defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, but later renamed after it caused outrage among some critics for its anti-French sentiment.

Le Vaincu caused a stir at the exhibition, confusing artists and critics alike. The spear of Sans, the character’s left arm is currently posed mysteriously in the air, and its half-closed eyes have some viewers wondering if the statue is supposed to depict a sleepwalker. And while it received praise for its beauty and originality, some critics found the statue so life-like that they openly questioned the sculptor’s methods.

A particularly damning review appeared in the daily L’Etoile Belge After the statue’s debut:

“It [the statue] certainly will not go unnoticed, since it attracts our attention with its originality and holds it in place thanks to a rare, precious quality – life. Regarding the role drawn from life in the creation of this plaster, we will not consider it here. “

Essentially, Rodin’s creations were so realistic that he was accused of casting his work directly on the model’s body, a technique known as surmoulage. Detractors say that the sculptor is a fraud. Some of the accusations seem to have even turned macabre.

“They said I molded it on a corpse that I had placed on its feet,” French documentary La Turbilities Rodin quote the lost sculptor talking about failure. “How painful it is to see the figure that could help my future be thwarted by these slanderous suspicions!”


Suspicious suspicions followed Rodin back to France, where he submitted his picture, now baptized Bronze Age, for the jury of Salon Paris. And although the jury accepted the statue, there was talk among the members that such realism could only be achieved through the method of shaping.

Outraged, Rodin wrote to the head of the jury, who asked him for evidence. Several of his friends and Belgian artists gave written testimony saying they had witnessed the sculptor working on the statue and were able to verify its authenticity. Rodin also provided photos of Neyt showing him to be stronger in real life, further denying allegations that the statue was cast directly on the model’s body.

Rodin eventually cleared his name, but the allegations had an indelible impact: Bronze Age is his first and last character. Subsequent works are scaled larger or smaller than life, which I never really paid attention to before.

Its scandalous debut aside, it is today one of Rodin’s most celebrated works. Actor of Bronze Age It is currently on display in major museums around the world, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and Mexico City’s Museo Soumaya, as well as at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. However, there is something particularly captivating about viewing it at the Hôtel Biron (also known as the Rodin Museum), where the artist lived and worked in the early 20th century.

Located in the city’s chic, peaceful District 7, the building has undergone many transformations since it was built in the late 1720s. Originally a private residence and gardens, then it converted into a Catholic boarding school for girls from wealthy families. After the school closed in the early 1900s, Hôtel Biron had ramshackle apartments and art studios rented by many Belle Epoque celebrities including Jean Cocteau and Isadora Duncan. In fact, it was Rodin’s good friend and secretary, the legendary poet Rainer Maria Rilke, that gave him the fortune.

“Hôtel Biron is in a dilapidated state and the government leases it to a low rent,” Rilke wrote in his book for his friend. “Plumbing is hopeless, heating no better; and in the vast, completely overgrown grounds, the wild rabbits (rather appropriately) use their natural energies without being checked or hindered. “

However, in a 1908 letter to Rodin, Rilke’s description of this popular artist colony and bohemian inn is much more rosy:

“My dear wonderful friend, you should see this beautiful building and the room I have been staying in since this morning. Its three bay windows extend to an abandoned garden, where bunnies can sometimes be seen hopping over the trellis as pictured in the antique tapestry. “

Rodin rented four rooms on the ground floor before taking over the entire property a few years later. He signed an agreement with the French government to convert this space into a museum in exchange for all of his works, as well as the right to stay on the property for the rest of his life. He died in 1917, and the Rodin museum of the same name opened to the public two years later.

The 18th-century grounds are a subtle tribute to the Rococo style with its towering arched windows, hand-carved woodwork and interior columns. Bronze Age displayed in a first-floor revolving house with ornate wood paneling and antique gilded mirrors. The best time to see it is on a sunny day when light filters through the tall windows and illuminates its sinewy outlines.

Even without the natural spotlight, this number still makes museum visitors stop their tracks. The last time I visited, on an overcast autumn afternoon, a group of tourists were circling the statue, eager, it seemed, to be photographed from every angle. I think back to its original name, Le Vaincu. However, closed eyes and parted lips suggest less of a defeated warrior than a sigh of joy. Whatever Rodin’s original vision, the result is the work’s corrosion, its intense sensuality, which is what makes it so captivating. Realism is dramatic, yes, but it’s the emotion that holds our gaze.


“The cast only recreated the exterior,” explained Rodin, in the process defending the authenticity of the statue. “I reproduce, besides, the spirit is certainly a part of nature as well.”

He added:

“I emphasize the lines that best represent the mental state I interpret.”

For Neyt, it seems he has continued to live a quiet life after 18 months modeling the history-making sculpture of a master artist. In fact, nothing has been written about him other than the role he played in Rodin’s masterpiece. Online cemetery records show a listing for August (no “e”) Neyt, born 1853 and died 1930 in Oostwinkel, Belgium, which makes him approximately the same age as Rodin’s model, but can’t know. sure.

While the legend of his lifelike appearance and the artist who molded it continues to shine through nearly a century and a half later, Neyt, like many artist models before him, has transformed disappeared without being recorded in history. Rodin, a Cadaver, and the scandal that nearly derailed him


ClareFora is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. ClareFora joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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