By Kristen Pignuolo, Curatorial Assistant
For Auguste Rodin, the actual process of creating a sculpture was as important as the subject matter of a work. However, he did not accomplish this alone. Rodin’s studio, of which he was the master, was the workshop of a professional artist. He would work with assistants, students, and apprentices to produce art under the master’s name. At any given time, Rodin had twenty-odd technicians working for him and in 1893, he employed almost 50 people, his studio functioning on the scale of a small company.
The first step Rodin often took when creating a sculpture was drawing. According to Rodin himself, his “drawings are the key to [his] work.” Rodin would create rapid drawings, his eyes never leaving his model, to best capture their poses and gestures.
Once Rodin finished drawing, he would make a clay (or wax) sculpture from his sketch. According to some models, Rodin’s modeling was almost violent in nature, kneading the clay-like dough and throwing hunks of it around the studio. To continue modeling over a period of time, Rodin’s assistants would cover works in progress with wet rags to ensure they wouldn’t crack. Once Rodin was happy with the model, a copy was made in plaster by using a mold. He often had multiple casts made from a single work, allowing him to create several different versions of a sculpture.
While the vast majority of works in True Nature are bronze, the way many people encountered Rodin’s work in his lifetime was in plaster form. This was because the casting process was time consuming and expensive. To have a work cast in bronze, Rodin would have to raise funds or have a patron pay for the process.
At this point, Rodin would send plaster works out to foundries (factories that produce metal castings) to create the bronze version of a sculpture. Rodin preferred the lost-wax casting technique for his sculptures. For this technique, foundry workers would create a hollow mold and clay model from the final plaster model. Then, a layer of clay would be removed, creating a gap that would be filled by hot wax.
Channels of wax and a wax funnel were connected to parts of the figure for the molten bronze to flow through and allow gas to escape. Another plaster mold would be built around the figure and placed in a kiln. As the kiln fired, the wax would melt away. Once cool, the mold was flipped and bronze poured inside, creating the final bronze sculpture.
Once the casting process was finished, the bronze rods on the figure would be removed and any final details would be made. It is here that other artists would have the seam lines and ‘imperfections’ removed. However, Rodin notoriously eschewed this step, choosing to leave these details in the final piece. Chemicals would be applied to the metal surface to create an artificial patina, a green or brown film or sheen. This patina is usually produced by oxidation over a long period. However, Rodin chose to have them chemically created because he enjoyed the way light reflected on the treated bronze.