Like the figures from The Gates of Hell, Iris, Messenger of the Gods can best be understood as the product of extraction from a larger sculptural project. In 1889, Rodin was awarded the commission of a Monument to Victor Hugo to be erected in the Panthéon in Paris. His first conception was a portrayal of the French poet in exile on the Channel Islands, seated in a rocky terrain holding his head in his hand in a conventional gesture of thought. When this model was found to be unsuitable for the Panthéon, Rodin embarked upon a second project, now known as the Apotheosis of Victor Hugo, a triangular composition depicting Hugo standing on his island, with Iris, Messenger of the Gods flying above his head and the Sirens from The Gates of Hell emerging from the waves below.
Rodin never went further than the models for this version, but he extracted the Iris, originally intended as a symbol of poetic inspiration, and used her body as a medium for exploration of formal problems connected with the progressive dismantling of the human figure. In the process, he succeeded in creating this powerfully erotic image.
Signature: On the sole of the right foot: A. Rodin