François Auguste René Rodin (12 November 1840 – 17 November 1917) was a French sculptor generally considered the founder of modern sculpture. He was schooled traditionally and took a craftsman-like approach to his work. Rodin possessed a unique ability to model a complex, turbulent, and deeply pocketed surface in clay. He is known for such sculptures as The Thinker, Monument to Balzac, The Kiss, The Burghers of Calais, and The Gates of Hell.
Many of Rodin’s most notable sculptures were criticized, as they clashed with predominant figurative sculpture traditions in which works were decorative, formulaic, or highly thematic. Rodin’s most original work departed from traditional themes of mythology and allegory. He modeled the human body with naturalism, and his sculptures celebrate individual character and physicality. Although Rodin was sensitive to the controversy surrounding his work, he refused to change his style, and his continued output brought increasing favor from the government and the artistic community.
From the unexpected naturalism of Rodin’s first major figure – inspired by his 1875 trip to Italy – to the unconventional memorials whose commissions he later sought, his reputation grew, and Rodin became the preeminent French sculptor of his time. By 1900, he was a world-renowned artist. Wealthy private clients sought Rodin’s work after his World’s Fair exhibit, and he kept company with a variety of high-profile intellectuals and artists. His student, Camille Claudel, became his associate, lover, and creative rival. Rodin’s other students included Antoine Bourdelle, Constantin Brâncuși, and Charles Despiau. He married his lifelong companion, Rose Beuret, in the last year of both their lives. His sculptures suffered a decline in popularity after his death in 1917, but within a few decades his legacy solidified. Rodin remains one of the few sculptors widely known outside the visual arts community.