Pierre August Rodin is a famous nerd. He lived in France during the Impressionist Movement, and was friends with Monet and Marie Cassatte.
The Impressionists were experimenting with light, and how the time of day affects the mood of the painting. Rodin admired their technique, which was rough and textured. They painted with large brushes and thick paint. He tried to apply their painting style to sculpture. His works are known for a rough, textured surface.
To be considered successful, an artist must be accepted by a society. The same is still true today. If you go to an art show, artists will have certificates that tell you what society they belong to. A society is sort of like a fraternity, or the popular crowd. If you belong to a society, it means you’re good enough to be considered a professional artist. Rodin tried to get into a society several times, but he was never accepted.
The first piece that he submitted to a society was called the Mask of Sorrow. It was a bronze casting. To make a casting, the artist first creates the sculpture in bee’s wax, which is soft, and sort of like modeling clay. Then the artist makes a plaster cast of the sculpture, melts the bees wax and pours it out, and then fills the cavity with molten metal. Rodin made a man’s head out of wax, but it was so cold that winter, that the wax cracked, and the back of the head fell off. Rodin couldn’t fix it, so he cast it that way. He called it the Mask of Sorrow, because it captured the way he felt. Inside, he was poor and miserable, but he had to cover that up in order to get accepted by the society.
The society did not accept his work because of the rough textured surface. The style that was popular at that time was like the classic Roman style that is very realistic. The society considered his work to be unfinished, amateur, and unrefined.
The funny thing about Rodin is that if he had been born just a little bit later, he would have fit in with the other artists in France. The next art movement was Expressionism, experimenting with color to see how it communicates emotions. Rodin was trying to show emotion with texture, but he was ahead of his time.
Rodin only made two famous works of art in his entire career; The Thinker, and The Kiss. The Thinker is a man deep in thought. Every part of him is tense, from his toes that are gripping the ground, to his wrinkled forehead. The tenseness of his muscles communicates that he is thinking about a very difficult problem. The Kiss is a sculpture of Rodin and his girlfriend that communicates the opposite emotion. They are very relaxed, and completely at ease, showing that when one finds true love, they have nothing to be afraid of.
The Thinker is located on Rodin’s grave. When he died, he left the right to copy his work to the government of France. The French government was the only place that ever hired him or accepted his work. He wanted them to use the money from selling copies of his work to pay for more art, and to support other artists that are struggling as he did.
Students in grades 4 and above can make a paper mache bust that is similar to the mask of sorrow. To make this project you will need:
- large cardboard tubes such as Pringle’s Cans or carpet tubes cut to 4” tall
- newspaper or newsprint
- flour (five pounds for 25 to 30 students)
- masking tape
- craft sticks
- pictures of faces from magazines that show different emotions.
Blow up a balloon to the size of a cantaloupe or musk melon, and tie the neck. Place it in the tube, knot down, and hold it together with a few strips of masking tape. Dip strips of newspaper into a mixture of flour and water that is a little thinner than gravy. Cover the entire surface, except the bottom of the tube, with at least four layers.
To make a chin, nose and ears crumple a piece of paper to the appropriate size and shape. Tape it to the balloon with strips of paper and flour. Using dry paper for the inside of thick pieces will help speed up the drying time. Use a craft stick to press the paper into the nooks and crannies, such as the area behind the ear, or the nostrils.
Once the basic head has been created, apply crumpled strips to create lips, eyes and eye brows that show an emotion. To make hair, dip a strip in flour water, and then twirl it like a rope, leaving one end flat so that it can be taped to the head.
Dry the sculptures in a sunny, well-ventilated area. Once dry, they can be painted to look like bronze using metallic acrylic paint. If the newsprint has printing on it, the sculpture may need a coat of white paint or gesso to cover up the printing. If the top layer of paper does not have printing on it, this step can be omitted.
Sunshine State Standards
VA.A.1.2.4 uses good craftsmanship in a variety of two-dimensional and three-dimensional media.
- The sculpture is engineered enough that it stands up and is not top heavy.
- The face shows an emotion.
- The sculpture is thick enough to be stiff.
- The face is structurally sound and the features are firmly affixed.
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