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Rodin’s Hands

Through January 5, 2025

“Rodin is the sculptor of hands—furious, clenched, rearing, damned hands” —French critic and poet Gustave Kahn

Auguste Rodin almost obsessively explored the expressive power of hands, using them to convey an infinite variety of emotions and experiences. This exhibition, on view at the nearby Rodin Museum, highlights fifteen bronzes and plasters, many of them rare or unique to the Philadelphia collection. Discover how the reuse, reorientation, and repurposing of hands offer insight into the French sculptor’s creative process.

Key Works

Enlarged hands or those distended by age or disease were vital components of figural sculptures such as The Burghers of Calais or The Helmet-Maker’s Wife. It is thought that he conceived The Clenched Hand and The Left Hand as studies for The Burghers of Calais but rejected them as being too animated. Later works, comprised of hands cut at the wrist or forearm, offer symbolist essays on humanity and creation.

A piece unique to the Rodin Museum is the bronze sculpture of clasping hands titled Two Hands. The plaster model for it at the Musée Rodin in Paris is inscribed: “Hands of Rodin and Rose Beuret,” suggesting that the hands are those of the sculptor and his mistress and partner.

The Cathedral depicts two over-life-size right hands whose fingertips are about to touch. The sculptor published a book on the Gothic cathedrals of France in 1914 and renamed this piece (formerly called The Arch of Alliance) after the rib vaulting found in Gothic churches.

In Rodin’s vision of creation, The Hand of God emerges not from heaven but from earth and cradles a rock from which male and female figures emerge. The divine hand with its open, curving palm and outstretched index finger is identical to a right hand that appears twice in The Burghers of Calais.

A work by Barbara Hepworth, who shared Rodin’s interest in hands, will also be included.

Rodin Museum

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About the Artist

In a career that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917) was deeply inspired by tradition yet rebelled against its idealized forms, introducing innovative practices that paved the way for modern sculpture. He believed that art should be true to nature, a philosophy that shaped his attitudes to models and materials. Exploring realms beneath the surface, Rodin developed an agile technique for rendering the extreme physical states that correspond to expressions of inner turmoil or overwhelming joy.

Rodin’s focus on the human form and use of various materials (bronze, marble, plaster, and clay) illustrate his respect for sculptural tradition and his desire to work within the system for commissions and exhibition opportunities. The hallmarks of Rodin’s style—his affinity for the partial figure, his focus on formal qualities and relationships rather than on narrative structure, and his desire to retain the marks of the sculptural process on his finished works—were revolutionary in his time.

Auguste Rodin, 1902, by Edward Steichen

Auguste Rodin, 1902 (negative), printed later, by Edward Steichen (American, 1879–1973), 2002-19-75 © The Estate of Edward Steichen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Jennifer Thompson, Gloria and Jack Drosdick Curator of European Painting and Sculpture and Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection

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