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Audio Guide - Adult

Portrait of Étienne Clémentel, 1916-1917

Artist: Auguste Rodin, French, 1840 - 1917
Foundry: Alexis Rudier, Paris

Medium: Bronze

22 3/4 x 22 1/4 x 10 1/2 in. (57.8 x 56.5 x 26.7 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of Morrie A. Moss

Object Number: 88.1.1

On View

Commissioned by Étienne Clémentel, Paris, France, ca. 1915-1916; Niece of Étienne Clémentel; Wildenstein & Co., New York, New York, 1987; Morrie A. Moss, Memphis, Tennessee, 1988

French sculptor and draftsman Auguste Rodin was born in Paris to working-class parents. As a teen he studied at the School of Decorative Art, where he learned to draw and sculpt in clay. Although a successful student, he failed to gain admission to the École des Beaux-Arts, and was forced to earn his living as a craftsman and embellisher, working for various jewelers, artisans, and masons. Rodin continued to work on his own art, but his early years were a persistent struggle to become a recognized sculptor. On a trip to Italy in 1875, he was inspired by the works of Michelangelo and Donatello, and he felt a new freedom from the stifling academicism of his decorative work.


Following his Italian sojourn, Rodin began to create sculptures that portrayed the human form through an expressive realism. He created many portraits of acquaintances and friends, as well as large public monuments in clay, marble, and bronze. It was through the external appearance that Rodin suggested the character of the sitter. Stressing the materiality of the medium and creating nuances of light and shadow across surfaces, his works became the sculptural equivalent of Impressionist painting.


Through modeling techniques and the rough treatment of surface textures, the Portrait of Etienne Clémentel reveals the sitter’s strong character in his pensive gaze, forceful jawline, and tight-pursed lips. A successful French statesman, Clémentel (1864-1936) held various cabinet-level positions, including minister of commerce and industry. A psychological study, this work captures the essence of the private man inside the public official. In his furrowed brow and wrinkled eyes, Rodin’s characterization depicts the toll of the pressures and demands on the high-ranking government officer. Meeting late in life, the two shared many common interests, including art and poetry, and became close friends. Later Rodin asked Clémentel to sit for a portrait, for which he refused payment. The Portrait of Etienne Clémentel was the last sculpture that Rodin completed before his death from a stroke in 1917.