Le bourgeois à la clé (Jean d’Aire), 1895

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

  • Bronze, 205 x 65 x 57 cm
  • On loan from Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

In 1884 the sculptor Auguste Rodin was commissioned to produce a monument that commemorated the famous burghers of Calais. During the Hundred Years’ War five residents of Calais attempted to end the siege of their city by surrendering to the English besiegers. Rodin made a bronze group of extremely realistic figures; this group was not set on the same pedestal in order to allow passers-by to stand among the figures and thus experience how it might have felt to have been one of these men.

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In addition to appearing in the group, the figures were also cast in bronze as independent works, such as this Jean D’Aire. The rag-clad figure with his furrowed face and coarse hands has much in common with The Farmer by Jules Dalou. This French sculptor made larger than life-size sculptures of peasants and labourers, which he endowed with a great dignity, despite their rough appearance.
Both Rodin and Dalou were part of the realist movement in 19th-century sculpture. This movement did not develop until c. 1880, some 30 years later than in painting. This kind of figure did not appear in public spaces until the first decades of the 20th century.

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