Man with a Broken Nose

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Rodin modeled this sculpture, one of his first, on a handyman whose features he felt revealed a life of struggle. As he worked on the clay model in his studio during the winter, the freezing temperatures caused the back of the head to crack off. Rodin decided to cast the broken version in bronze, giving the finished piece the appearance of a mask. Looking back at this work twenty-five years later, the sculptor declared: “That mask determined all my future work.”

By the early twentieth century Auguste Rodin was the world’s most celebrated sculptor. Considered to be a modern day Michelangelo, he was indeed inspired by the Renaissance master as well as by classical Greek sculpture. Although he was not successful as an artist until he was in his forties, Rodin became extremely influential on his contemporaries as well as on later generations. The strength of his work lay in his sympathetic rendering of the human spirit through expressive and skillful modeling of anatomy.

Man with a Broken Nose, his first portrait, was an important sculpture for Rodin. Started the year he decided to become a sculptor, it represents an old man named Bibi, who made a meager living doing odd jobs in the neighborhood of Rodin’s first studio in Paris. The brutalized face of Bibi impressed the young sculptor, who found classic strength and beauty in the old man’s features. Rodin devoted a year to the portrait and later claimed that the piece was critically important to him. “That mask determined all my future work.... I have kept that mask before my mind in everything I have done.” . . .

The piece was submitted to the Paris Salon of 1864 but, probably because the artist was still unknown and his format was not conventional, it was not accepted for exhibition. In spite of this rejection, Man with a Broken Nose was one of Rodin’s most popular pieces by the 1880s.

—Jennifer Gordon Lovett, excerpted from The Art and Craft of Nineteenth-Century Sculpture, Jennifer Gordon Lovett et al. (Williamstown, Mass.: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1994).

Auguste Rodin

French, 1840–1917

Man with a Broken Nose

modeled 1863–64


Height: 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm)

Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark before 1955