When Auguste Rodin first came into prominence, his work was so fresh, it was shunned by art galleries and critics in his native France.
Although Rodin was enrolled in art classes by the age of 14, he was rejected three times from the esteemed French National School of Fine Arts and did not find major artistic success until he was 37.
But today, Rodin is considered the father of modern sculpture and is credited with moving the genre away from the decorative, into more emotive, interpretive art.
The hallmarks of Rodin’s style — his decision not to smooth over or hide signs of his sculptural process and the creation of sculptures from parts of the body like hands —were cutting edge in his time.
And over the course of a career that spanned the late 1800s and early 1900s, the artist challenged the notions of beauty.
In art, he said, a thing is beautiful whenever it has character.
Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg curator Stanton Thomas says Rodin’s work remains revolutionary.
“People were shocked when they first saw the work of Rodin because they perceived it as a little bit unfinished,” Thomas said. “The subject matter wasn’t what they expected and rather than change his style to suit what the public wanted, he pushed against that.”
The new exhibition includes nearly forty of the artist’s works, ranging from small scale marble statues to larger-than-life bronzes.
Thomas says one of the challenges in presenting the artist’s work was giving each piece its own space.
“A lot of the objects are really monumental, so we were very careful in creating sightlines,” Thomas said. “We also tried as much as possible to play up people’s perception of awe and excitement so when you go around the corners, you’ll see something amazing and unexpected.”
The MFA takes visitors through a survey of Rodin’s best work, from his classical rendering of biblical figures to his interpretations of mythological Greek gods.
The exhibition pairs Rodin’s statues with works from some of his impressionist contemporaries, including paintings from Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Rodin was not just aware of the work of his colleagues, but was part of the artistic environment in France during the late 19th century.
“Rodin was very close friends with Monet,” Thomas explained. “He knew Cezanne and was also friends with Renoir and they sometimes worked together.”
Drawn from the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the exhibition features nearly 70 pieces, including sculptures, paintings, photographs and works on paper.
True Nature: Rodin and the Age of Impressionism will be on view through March 26.