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In tandem with The Gates of Hell, Rodin worked on the Burghers of Calais, largescale monument commissioned in 1885 by the city of Calais to commemorate the heroism of six citizens who, during the Hundred Years War, sacrificed their lives so that the King of England would spare the town. In the first maquette, Rodin, rather conventionally, placed the group on a high plinth.
The larger second maquette attested to the sculptor’s search for individualization: each figure expressed a different emotion, ranging from resignation to rebellion. The monument was not officially unveiled in Calais until 1895, due to the vagaries of local politics and the difficulty Rodin had with deciding whether or not his work was finished.
The genesis of the Monument to Balzac was even more complex. In 1891, the Société des Gens de Lettres, wishing to pay tribute to one of its founders, the great novelist Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), asked Rodin to design a monument. The sculptor gathered information about Balzac’s life and sought out known portraits of him, yet found it hard to decide on the form his monument should take. He gradually abandoned the anecdotal details of Balzac in Frock Coat to capture the force of the writer’s visionary genius in a head with strong facial features, set atop a body swathed in a flowing dressing gown.
Balzac, study of nude C - © Musée Rodin - Picture : Christian Baraja
When he presented this work in 1898, the Société des Gens de Lettres did not recognize Balzac, and refused t he monument. A virulent controversy broke out between those who supported and those who opposed the project submitted by the artist – but Rodin decided to put an end to argument by withdrawing his masterpiece, which would not be cast in bronze until after his death.
Rodin had the honour of modelling a bust of Victor Hugo (1802-85) in 1883. In the course of the 1890s, he designed several projects for a monument to the illustrious writer, but only one came to fruition. Depicting the poet in exile, seated amongst the rocks in Guernsey, his arm outstretched as if to calm the waves, the marble was erected in the gardens of Palais Royal in 1909, before joining the Musée Rodin collections.