Interpretive Resource

Examination: Rodin's Development of The Walking Man

Learn how Rodin's The Walking Man, a major achievement in the history of modern sculpture, developed over a period of more than twenty years.

Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 161.

A major achievement in the history of modern sculpture, Auguste Rodin’s The Walking Man is unusual for its radically fragmented human anatomy: both the head and arms are absent, and portions of the back and buttocks are deeply gouged. Such disfigurements are marks of the artist’s creative methods, records of studio accidents that reveal the work’s transition from plaster to bronze. Rodin’s deliberate disavowal of the refined execution and polished veneer of classical sculpture was decisively innovative. Moreover, it parallels many key aspects of Impressionist painting, including an emphasis on process and spontaneity.

The Walking Man, which developed over a period of more than twenty years, derives from Rodin’s studies for Saint John the Baptist Preaching, a life-sized sculpture completed in 1878. The model for Saint John was a peasant from the Abruzzi region of Italy who, according to the artist, entered his Paris studio one morning in search of work: "He planted himself, head up, torso straight, at the same time supported on his two legs, opened like a compass," Rodin later recalled. "The movement was so right, so determined, and so true that I cried: ‘But it’s a walking man!’ I immediately resolved to make what I had seen."

Rodin modeled separate plaster impressions of the torso and legs, and later unified these halves into a single bronze cast that he exhibited for the first time at the Salon of 1900. Although critics felt that the figure seemed too firmly posed to represent motion convincingly, Rodin defended the stance, arguing that the artist’s task is to convey the overall "impression" of a physical act, not a conventional rendition or scientific analysis of it.

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