Auguste Rodin French

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 800

Auguste Rodin’s first commission from the French government, The Gates of Hell, was intended to be the portal for a new building to house the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, but that edifice was never constructed. Nonetheless, Rodin worked on the project for two decades, exhibiting a plaster version of The Gates in public for the first time in 1900. Even though the colossal doorway was never cast in bronze in his lifetime, the numerous figures he invented for it inspired many of his finished sculptures, and some became independent works of art in their own right.[1] In a letter of October 20, 1881, to the commissioners at the Ministère de l’Instruction Publique et des Beaux-Arts, the sculptor referred to "two colossal figures that will stand at either side of the gates." [2] Albert Elsen identified them as Adam and Eve, the original sinners, as seen in an early sketch by the artist.[ 3] The sculptor had exhibited a plaster of Adam at the Paris Salon of 1881, so he may have invented the figure before he thought of associating it with the government’s architectural project. Rodin later produced versions of Adam and Eve as independent compositions. Nonetheless, Adam can be considered as a flanking element and as pendant to Eve (11.173.2). Both figures tuck their heads into their shoulders; in Eve’s case, her remorse is evident, as she hides behind her arms. In contrast to her more fluid form, Adam’s body is defined by taut musculature: two deliberately awkward arms reach down in parallel movements, and his bent knee tightens the leg tendons. Both bodies also twist —  ​overtly in Adam’s case, with more subtlety in Eve’s —  ​as if toward each other across the doors they were intended to flank.

Adam is one of a series of powerful male nudes that established Rodin as a major sculptor in the 1870s and early 1880s. They include The Age of Bronze (Metropolitan Museum of Art)  [4] and Saint John the Baptist Preaching (Museum of Modern Art, New York). Of these, Adam offers the clearest homage to Michelangelo, whose marbles, such as the Dying Slave and Rebellious Slave (Accademia, Florence, and Musée du Louvre, Paris), and fresco The Creation of Adam on the Sistine Ceiling in the Vatican, Rodin had passionately admired and studied in Italy before he returned home in 1876. [5] Adam’s extended right forefinger alludes to the awakening gesture in Michelangelo’s painted Creation scene.

This particular sculpture helped to establish Rodin’s reputation in America. The New York investor Thomas Fortune Ryan, who collected works by Rodin as well as Italian Renaissance art, gave several of the French artist’s marbles to the Museum; he also contributed funds to purchase other works by the man generally recognized as the greatest living sculptor. In 1910 one of the foremost American sculptors, Daniel Chester French, who was chairman of the Museum’s Sculpture Committee, visited Rodin’s studio in Meudon with Vice Director Edward Robinson; at that time they commissioned the present work, which is evidently the first bronze cast from a plaster model that Rodin had created several decades before.[6] Two years later, the Museum dedicated a gallery to Rodin’s work, a tribute it has rarely accorded to a living artist; this was an especially noteworthy event since the display preceded the establishment of the Musée Rodin in Paris by four years and the founding of the Museum of Modern Art in New York by seventeen years. In the new gallery, the bronze Adam and Eve were joined by some forty other sculptures and drawings, many of them gifts from the artist himself. Based on this core collection, the Museum has assembled a comprehensive representation of Rodin’s work in all media executed throughout his career. [7]


1. See Elsen 1960, among many other treatments of the subject.
2. Letter in the Archives Nationales, Paris; quoted in ibid., p. 67.
3. The sketch is in the Musée Rodin, Paris (ibid., pl. 42).
4. Acc. no. 07.127.
5. See Rodin and Michelangelo 1997, especially on the cast of Adam in the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, pp. 124 – 25, no. 20 (entry by Christopher Riopelle).
6. Rodin’s list of works to be supplied to the Metropolitan Museum includes the entry "Adam: Jamais de bronze ou de marbre, à faire, 20,000" (Adam: Never in bronze or marble, to make, 20,000); list dated July 22, 1910, Thomas F. Ryan Correspondence, Office of the Secretary Records, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Archives. The original plaster is now in the Musée Rodin, Paris (Grappe 1927, p. 32, no. 28); another plaster is in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen (Rostrup 1964, p. 138, no. 734a). Other bronze casts are in the Musée Rodin, Paris (Grappe 1927, p. 32, no. 27), in the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia (see note 5 above), and in the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel (Gantner 1953, p. 26, fig. 11).
7. See Vincent 1981.

#2191. Adam

Adam, Auguste Rodin (French, Paris 1840–1917 Meudon), Bronze, French, Paris

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