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A Fresh Look at Rodin — the Modern Man

A Fresh Look at Rodin — the Modern Man

Three Shades

Auguste Rodin (France, 1840–1917), The Three Shades (Les Ombres), 1881-1886. Bronze, cast in 1978. Gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collection, 1998.360

The Cantor Arts Center

Rodin: The Shock of the Modern Body

September 15, 2017–Ongoing

Stanford, California—If ingenuity is the lifeblood of the Silicon Valley, then it’s entirely fitting that Auguste Rodin (France, 1840–1917) is so closely associated with the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, which is marking the centenary of his death with a fresh presentation of its exceptional collection of Rodin sculptures. Much like today’s innovators, Rodin challenged himself, the academic system, his critics, and the public. He did so by relentlessly pursuing new ways to convey complex emotions, diverse psychological states, and pure sensuality through the nude.

At the time of his death, Rodin was counted among the most renowned artists in the world. A century later, after numerous reassessments by generations of art historians, Rodin continues to be recognized for making figurative sculpture modern by redefining the expressive capacity of the human form. Rodin: The Shock of the Modern Body spans three galleries and features nearly 100 Rodin sculptures essential to telling the artist’s story and representing his groundbreaking engagement with the body. Drawn from the extensive holdings of the Cantor, the largest collection of sculptures by Rodin in an American museum, the exhibition also presents comparative works by his rivals, mentors, admirers, and imitators.

“It's a privilege to work with the Cantor's Rodin collection, because it was built so thoughtfully, to fully illustrate his career for teaching purposes, while also being a source of pure enjoyment,” said Elizabeth Kathleen Mitchell, the Burton and Deedee McMurtry Curator and director of the Curatorial Fellowship Program. Iris and B. Gerald Cantor, whose generosity made possible the outstanding collection, wanted to ensure that it be used for study and pleasure by scholars, the academic community, and the public. Numerous large-scale Rodin works are on view around Stanford University and in the Rodin Sculpture Garden, adjacent to the museum, and are accessible 24-hours a day.

In the new exhibition, Rodin’s modern vision is explored through significant early works and portraits, by investigating his working processes, and by highlighting his controversial use of the fragmented body as a finished composition. While 
many of Rodin’s contemporaries portrayed idealized versions of the human form, Rodin used spontaneous gestures, asymmetry, varied surface textures, and anatomical distortions that ranged from subtle to provocative. In this way, Rodin breathed new life into figural sculpture.

“A personal highlight for me has been spending time with the Age of Bronze,” Mitchell said. “The museum is so fortunate to have this landmark work of art, which declared Rodin's vision to the world.” When the work was shown at the 1877 Salon in Paris, it caused a scandal. Rodin’s work was so astonishingly life-like that his critics accused him of casting a whole body to make it. Rodin was able to successfully prove that he had skillfully modeled the form, and the scandal ultimately did have a benefit. It drew attention to Rodin and, in 1880, earned him the commission for The Gates of Hell (1880-1917)—a complete cast of which is located outside the Cantor in the sculpture garden. This, as well as other significant monument projects represented in the installation, demonstrates how Rodin reinvigorated the tradition of public art. 

An exciting part of the Cantor’s new exhibition is that the Susan and John Diekman Rotunda, which features Rodin’s most famous sculpture, The Thinker, will become a more open and contemplative space. The re-envisioned space will allow museum visitors to pause before Rodin’s best-known work and learn more about the history of his art at the Cantor, before moving into the larger exhibition to further explore his extraordinary talent.

This exhibition is organized by the Cantor Arts Center. We gratefully acknowledge support from the Robert Mondavi Fund, the Clumeck Fund, and Museum Members.


Cantor Arts Center
Cantor Arts Center
Founded with the university in 1891, the historic museum was expanded and renamed in 1999 for lead donors Iris and B. Gerald Cantor. The Cantor’s collection spans 5,000 years and includes more than 38,000 works of art from around the globe. Ranging from classical antiquities to contemporary works, the Cantor’s holdings include the largest collection of sculptures by acclaimed master Auguste Rodin in an American museum.  With 24 galleries and more than 15 special exhibitions each year, the Cantor is one of the most visited university art museums in the country and is an established resource for teaching and research on campus.  Free admission, tours, lectures, and family activities help the museum attract visitors from Stanford’s academic community, the San Francisco Bay Area, and from around the world.