Auguste Rodin (French, 18401917)
Terracotta; H. 9 3/8 in. (23.8 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.11.1)
Honoré de Balzac, one of nineteenth-century France's greatest writers and the author of the prodigious novel La comédie humaine, was born in Tours in 1799. Balzac had been dead for over forty years when Rodin was awarded the commission for a public monument. Rodin found the life portraits of the writer uninspiring, and on the theory that people from the same geographical area often bear close physical resemblance to one another, he went to Tours to find a living model for his Balzac. The sureness and delicacy of the modeling of the Metropolitan Museum's terracotta marks it as an autograph work. It was identified as a "Study of the head of Balzac on a man of Tours" on the checklist of the Museum's purchases from the sculptor in 1910. It is now known that the man was named Estager and that he was a conductor, presumably for the city's streetcars. Photographs preserved in the Musée Rodin in Paris show Rodin's sculpture to be a remarkable likeness of the man. Rodin used this early "portrait" as the inspiration for numerous versions of Balzac's head, ending with the great, craggy, masklike face of the final version of the monument.