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An Unlikely Pair: Rodin and Monet

Rodin and Monet were closer than one might assume. Learn more about the two European artists from the High’s Evelyn Newsome.

By Evelyn Newsome, Coordinator of Lifelong Learning Programs, High Museum of Art

“[T]he same feeling of brotherhood, the same love of art, has made us friends forever. [. . .] I still have the same admiration for the artist who helped me understand light, clouds, the sea, the cathedrals that I already loved so much, but whose beauty awakened at dawn by your interpretation moved me so deeply.”

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917) wrote these words of friendship and admiration in 1897 to his friend and contemporary Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926).[1] While contrasting in styles and mediums — Monet known for his colorful, atmospheric landscape paintings, and Rodin for his emotive figural sculptures — these two artists were more connected than one might assume.

Born just two days apart in November of 1840, Rodin and Monet most likely met in the early 1880s, introduced by critics or art dealers. The two artists were often seen frequenting the Paris dining club Les Bons Cosaques with prominent figures such as artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir and art critic Octave Mirbeau. Their dinners often included discussions that challenged academicism; both Monet and Rodin actively contended with the traditional Paris Salon and the academic hierarchy of the Parisian art sphere.[2] The two artists became fast friends, and by 1887, Rodin was often seen visiting Monet’s garden at Giverny.

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917), A Burgher of Calais (Jean d’Aire), modeled 1884–1889, reduction cast probably 1895. Bronze, 18 1/2 × 6 5/16 × 5 1/2 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mrs. John W. Simpson, 1942.5.13.

After several group exhibitions together, Monet pursued a collaboration with Rodin in a joint exhibition at the fashionable Galerie Georges Petit in Paris during the summer of 1889. Monet was still struggling to gain recognition, and an endeavor such as this would help to mount his career. The exhibition featured one hundred forty-five paintings by Monet and thirty-six sculptures by Rodin, including Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais in plaster.[3]

Their art was brought together once again in the United States in March of 1905 at the Copley Society of Art in Boston.[4] This exhibition included work from the collection of Paul Durand-Ruel, a French art dealer, highlighting ninety-four paintings by Monet and eleven sculptures by Rodin. Of these paintings, Monet’s Falaises à Pourville (1896) was featured. A very similar version can be found in the High’s Doris and Shouky Shaheen Collection, The Cliffs of Pourville, Rough Sea (Falaises de Pourville, mer agitée) (1897). Rodin’s sculpture A Burgher of Calais (Jean d’Aire) (original model 1887, reduced 1895, cast 1904) was also featured. This work can be found alongside many other Rodin works in the High’s upcoming special exhibition Rodin in the United States: Confronting the Modern.

Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926), The Cliffs of Pourville, Rough Sea (Falaises de Pourville, mer agitée), 1887. Oil on canvas, 36 x 49 1/4 in. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Doris and Shouky Shaheen Collection, 2019.153.

In addition to exhibiting together, Monet and Rodin also collected art from one another. In one instance, the two even swapped works of art. Monet exchanged a painting from his 1886 Belle-Île series for Rodin’s Jeune mère à la grotte (Young Mother in the Grotto) from 1885.[5]

While Monet and Rodin explored very different subject matter, the two artists sought to understand and depict the natural world in similar ways. Sculptures such as Eternal Spring (1884, cast 1963) mark Rodin as an Impressionist artist. This work portrays a couple in the throes of passion, and its bronze surface catches and reflects lights, creating optical color vibrations similar to those found in Monet’s Houses Along the Road (Maisons au bord de la route), painted just one year later in 1885. Here, Monet combines an array of colors and utilizes quick, short brushstrokes that force the viewer’s eyes to blend the scene before them.

Left: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917), Eternal Spring, 1884, cast 1963. Bronze, 26 x 28 1/2 x 16 in. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, 1977.132. Right: Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926), Houses Along the Road (Maisons au bord de la route), 1885. Oil on canvas, 25 x 32 in. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Doris and Shouky Shaheen Collection, 2019.152.

Monet and Rodin held great respect and admiration for one another as evidenced by their many correspondences and personal collections. The two artists confided in one another and congratulated each other throughout their lifetimes. Monet’s words for Rodin’s 1900 solo exhibition catalogue reflect the close friendship these two shared:

To truly say what I think [of Rodin] would require a talent that I do not possess: writing is not my métier. But what I want to communicate is my immense admiration for a man unique in his time — great even among the greatest.[6]

Rodin in the United States: Confronting the Modern will open at the High Museum on October 21. To learn more about Rodin and his practices, join us for an upcoming Short-Course Series, Rodin: Myths, Methods, Monuments, Museums, taught by Maria P. Gindhart, associate professor of art history and associate dean of the College of the Arts at Georgia State University. This multiweek course will examine Rodin, his oeuvre, and his artistic context and influence.

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[1] Alison Hokanson, “Auguste Rodin and Claude Monet: The Pursuit of Nature,” The Met (blog), December 27, 2017, https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2017/auguste-rodin-claude-monet.

[2] Musée Rodin, “Rodin and Monet,” n.d., https://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/resources/rodin-and-artists/rodin-and-monet.

[3] Hokanson, “Auguste Rodin and Claude Monet: The Pursuit of Nature.”

[4] Copley Society of Art, “Our History,” n.d., https://copleysociety.org/content/our-history.

[5] Casey Lesser, “Inside Monet’s Secret Collection of Impressionist Masterpieces,” Artsy, October 27, 2017, https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-inside-monets-secret-collection-impressionist-masterpieces.

[6] Hokanson, “Auguste Rodin and Claude Monet: The Pursuit of Nature.”

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