The influence of Rodin

Being Human begins with artists working under the influence of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) – Antoine Bourdelle who worked in his studio, Robert Wlérick who reacted against his realism and the German Wilhelm Lehmbruck who came to Paris after seeing his work in Dusseldorf. In the nineteenth century Rodin brought vigour and vitality back to figure sculpture. The Bronze Age (1877) was so lifelike it was even suggested that it must have been cast from a human being. Rodin’s revolutionary art galvanised sculpture for years to come, whether artists were building on his influence or reacting against it. In their different ways Bourdelle, Wlérick and Lehmbruck continued the work of Rodin in creating a modern language for sculpture.

You can read more about Rodin’s work and influence in this article by Julia Carver ‘Breathing life into clay: Rodin and modern sculpture’.


La Bacchante, bronze, 1909

Emile-Antoine Bourdelle(1861-1929)


A bronze sculpture of a naked woman balancing on a rocky peak with her right leg held high and bent at the knee. Her arms are raised above her head holding a vine with bunches of grapes.

Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, 1861-1929

Bourdelle learned carving from his cabinet-maker father and studied in Toulouse but left its conservative teaching for Paris in 1885. He worked in Auguste Rodin’s (1840-1917) studio from 1893 until 1908 and expanded on the high drama and realism of Rodin’s style. The influence of Rodin and Bourdelle can be traced through early modern sculpture of the 20th century.  Together with Jules Debois they established a free sculpture school attended by Henri Matisse (1869-1954). Bourdelle would go on to teach Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) and Germaine Richier (1902-1959), who were both influences on the British sculptors in Being Human.

Robert Wlérick , 1882-1944

Wlérick was born in Mont de Marsan and trained in Toulouse but, like Bourdelle, he was dissatisfied with the school at Toulouse and moved to Paris in 1906. Here he fell in with a circle of realist artists who saw themselves in opposition to Rodin, the so-called Bande á Schnegg (Gang of Schnegg, after their ‘leader’, Lucien). Wlérick himself was interested in the harmonious properties and rhythms of classical sculpture as opposed to the drama and realism of Rodin. Nevertheless his work was praised by the older artist who compared him to the Renaissance sculptor and teacher of Michelangelo, Donatello.

Wilhelm Lehmbruck,1881-1919

‘What a state I have been reduced to! Through concentrating on what is ideal, I have quite lost my sense of grip on what is real, and am surprised to find myself once more again in a physical body. I have difficulty in coming to terms with reality.’

‘You who have made so much death/have you none for me?’

Lehmbruck’s early work celebrated the heroism of labour. He studied carving and casting and first saw the work of Rodin in Dusseldorf in 1904, which persuaded him to move to Paris in 1910. His style developed to elongated forms and fragmented figures, derided by some but an important influence on others, such as Henry Moore. He was the only German sculptor to have a show in Paris between the Prussian and First World Wars. The outbreak of the First World War forced him to leave France and he took ambulance driving lessons to exempt him from military service. His depression at the war led to his suicide in 1919.

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