Auguste Rodin brought the public sculpture into the modern era. Rodin's objective was to be consistent with nature. His ability to convey movement and to show the inner feelings of the men and women he portrayed,and the brilliant technical skills of his light-catching modeling, and his extraordinary use of similar figures in different mediums, have established him as one of the greatest sculptors of all time.

Early Struggles 1858-1870

Early Struggles 1858-1870

To help support his family Rodin began working commercially in the decorative arts in 1858. Paris was in a time of transformation, many statues and other ornamental sculptures were being erected throughout the city in courtyards, squares and in front of public buildings. Numerous workshops throughout Paris were hiring artists to work on these public projects. Rodin endured several years of laboring for others by day and trying to fulfill his personal artistic aspirations by night.

Grief stricken by the unexpected death of his sister in 1862, Rodin briefly joined a Catholic order. Father Eymard, founder of the Order of the Holy Sacrament, quickly detected that the monastic life was not Rodin's true calling. He encouraged Rodin to draw and sculpt in order to revive him from his saddened mental state. Father Eymard was successful and Rodin left the monastery to pursue his dreams of being a sculptor.

Continuing to support himself by working for decorative sculptors, Rodin was able to afford to rent his first studio: a small, cold, and drafty stable. In the fall of 1863, he began working on a portrait bust that he intended to submit as his debut sculpture to the Paris Salon. The Salon was the official exhibition held annually where artists could display their work to the public. The atmosphere was very competitive, as each artist sought buyers for their work. The official prizes awarded greatly influenced what was sold. The Salon could make or break an artist's reputation.

Rodin working on Father Eymard's bust, 1863
Photograph by Charles Aubrey

For the first time, Rodin hired a model to sit for him. The model was not a professional, but rather a neighborhood handyman named Bibi. Rodin was very drawn to his features and wanted to depict him as he was– broken nose and all. The Man with the Broken Nose became The Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose when the cold conditions of Rodin's studio caused the back of the head to freeze and break off. Rodin, favoring the element of chance, wanted to exhibit the portrait bust as it was. He continued to work on it for over a year before submitting it to the Salon. Much to his disappointment, the Salon rejected the work twice during 1864 and 1865. Rodin considered the portrait to be his earliest major work and described it as the first exceptional piece of modeling he ever did.

During this time Rodin also met his lifetime companion, Rose Beuret, while working on a decorative commission. She became his model and mistress and remained completely devoted to him throughout her life. In 1866 she gave birth to their son, although Rodin did not legally acknowledge paternity.