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Balzac
  • Artist Auguste Rodin (French, 1840 - 1917)
  • TitleBalzac
  • Technique/MaterialBronze
  • AcquisitionPurchase with funds from the Association of Friends of the Gothenburg Museum of Art, 1964
  • CategorySculpture
  • Inventory NumberSk 0477
  • Display StatusOn display in The French Collection II (Room 29)
Description
Signatures etc.
Exhibition History
Bibliography
1883, Rodin was given the prestigious commission of creating a monument to the writer Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850). In the end, it was to drag on for nearly fifteen years. Rodin worked methodically from the inside out, from studies of nudes of other models to dressing a padded lay figure in a made-to-measure suit by Balzac’s own tailor. Instead of a suit, however, in the final version Balzac is wearing his favourite workwear—a dressing gown. The author, with something ferocious about his eyes and a dramatic fall to his robe, towers over the viewer: this is not an ordinary person, this is a giant.

The sculpture caused a scandal at an early stage. It was sneeringly referred to as a sack of coal, a penguin, or a foetus, and was said to disgrace the memory of a national hero. The French writers’ association, the Société des Gens de Lettres, who had commissioned the sculpture, duly rejected it out of hand, while others praised it. Opinion was deeply divided, and it became something of a political affair. Letters and petitions were written, a collection was taken in support, but Rodin decided to keep the sculpture himself. He was by then a wealthy man, with a mansion in central Paris and another outside the city. He had fifty assistants, nominally including his mistress Camille Claudel (1864–1943), who after her death was re-evaluated and found to be responsible for some of the art that Rodin had signed.

It was only in 1926 that the Balzac monument was cast in bronze by the Musée Rodin, which had been set up in his principal home after his death, and it was not until 1939 that it was put on public display in the open. The bronze sculpture in the Gothenburg Museum of Art is on a smaller scale, and was cast by the Musée Rodin in 1958. The Balzac monument, more than any other of Rodin’s early works, bears the mark of a new sculptural language, partly in refusing to portray an exact likeness, partly in its bold simplification of form.

Philippa Nanfeldt from The Collection Gothenburg Museum of Art, Gothenburg 2014