Rodin at the Peabody Essex Museum

Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA features a special exhibit on the sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917) till 9/5/16.


Rodin’s work is striking in its movement, expressiveness, and at first was not appreciated because it didn’t conform to the traditional themes of mythology or morality. This work, finally called The Age of Bronze, took him over a year of sculpting in clay from the live model of a Belgian soldier. It was so lifelike and lifesize that he was accused of taking a cast directly from the model’s body, and not actually sculpting the cast. He eventually managed to prove that it was his creative work, not a “tracing.”

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Videos help explain his process of sculpting clay, using that to create a plaster cast, using that cast to form the pieces of a bronze sculpture which are then assembled. Rodin did the sculpting, but his workshop did most of the casting.

The exhibit features lots of his plaster casts, then moves to bronzes, and marble. Doubleclick any photo to enlarge.

He also spent a lot of time working and reworking pieces, assembling and reassembling, and reusing/resizing works he had previously created.  He spent over 40 years designing these “Gates of Hell” entrance to a planned Museum, but never finished the work. The Museum was also never built. The doors feature his interpretation of stories in Dante’s Inferno. The figures appear in various other works throughout his life. This is a life-size photo of the Gates.


Sitting right above the doorway is The Thinker. On the right doorframe at the same height is that bending over backwards man, seen in plaster in the photos above.

He sculpted hands throughout his life, and kept a forest of little versions in drawers in his studio.


Lots of active, writhing bodies. He especially liked using dancers as models because they could hold uncomfotable poses for long stretches. And for other reasons. During his assignations, the “do not disturb” sign read “The Artist is Visiting the Cathedral.” Hallelujah!

His tribute to French novelist Honore de Balzac:

The Kiss:

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The Thinker, originally The Poet, i.e. Dante:

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The Burghers of Calais, depicting 6 leaders of the town of Calais who offered to sacrifice themselves to the British to save their townspeople during the 100 Years War:

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The modern Calais leaders who commissioned the sculpture weren’t happy with the non-heroic depiction.

In the final room of the Rodin exhibit are videos of ordinary down-on-their-luck folks whom the filmmaker recruited to recreate the Burghers of Calais:


Peabody Essex has lots of other works to see, including this unusual carved lightbox with a lightbulb inside – it recreates the pattern on the walls, floor, ceiling:

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Lots of American China Trade artifacts:


Down the street is Patrick Dougherty’s Stickwork, What the Bird Knows, built under his direction by community participants:

Salem, of course, has a lot to be seen, especially outside of Halloween/witch season, like the National Maritime Historic Area.



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