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by Auguste Rodin

Rodin's Balzac depicts the French author Honore de Balzac (Cousin Bette, Le Père Goriot ) and is on display at the Rodin Museum in Paris in the garden. It is also on display in a small garden spot on a main street in Paris, near Montparnasse cemetery, as well as in museums in Antwerp and New York City. There is also a plaster cast at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Rodin worked on this bronze from 1893-97, producing numerous versions, including several nudes which displayed the great author in all his rotund glory. Because Balzac had died several decades before, Rodin could not have him there to pose as a live model. Rodin did, however, order a suit from Balzac's tailor, in order to get an idea of Balzac's girth, and also hired models from Balzac's town who might have had a similar physique to Balzac. In truth, Rodin felt it most important to focus on the head of anyone he was sculpting who was important in the literary or art field, as that was the source of their genius.

Those who had hired him became not only impatient with how long it was taking Rodin to complete the commission, but also with the versions that he was producing. It seems that they had been hoping for a more polished and sedate depiction of Balzac, and Rodin felt more inclined to depict the ferocity of mind and the exhaustion of intense thought that might have shown on Balzac as he worked on his novels. The final version, showing Balzac almost completely enveloped in a heavy cloak, capped several years of what Rodin referred to as “le scandale Balzac” because of the enormous controversy surrounding his various designs. Balzac apparently always worked on his writings while wearing a big cloak or robe similar to this.

In the end, Rodin kept his Balzac statue and it was not until after his death that it was displayed in Paris, in the grassy spot between Boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse.

Some information for this summary came from an article in the International Herald Tribune of August 15, 1998. To read the article and learn more about the history of this sculpture, go here.

This photo is from the collection of Professor Jeffery Howe (Fine Arts at Boston College).

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