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Athlete or American Athlete

Auguste Rodin1901 - 1904

The Olympic Museum

The Olympic Museum

A nude athlete is seated on a base in a naturalistic way, showing the precise study of the male muscle structure. The relaxed and easy attitude of the “Athlete” is in contrast with the tense attitudes of other works by Rodin. Only an athlete could adopt this pose which came so naturally to the athlete, who concentrated before performing his feat.

A comparison between this sculpture and Rodin’s “Thinker” shows the change in the artist’s aesthetic at the turn of the century. The “Athlete” gives the impression of relaxed strength, where a balance has been found between the physical and the spiritual.

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  • Title: Athlete or American Athlete
  • Date Created: 1901 - 1904
  • Sculptor: Auguste Rodin
  • Physical Dimensions: w240 x h390 x d230 cm (Complete)
  • Description: Signed: “A. Rodin 1901-1904” on the right side, “Alexis Rudier fondeur Paris” on the back of the base
  • Collection information: While visiting Paris in 1901, Philadelphian Samuel Stockton White III, a gymnast and award-winning bodybuilder who studied at Princeton and Cambridge universities, was introduced to Rodin by a mutual friend. On the eve of the St Louis Olympic Games in 1904, Rodin asked the American athlete Samuel Stockton White to pose for him. This sculpture needed a number of posing sessions as the model did not live in France on a permanent basis. Two versions of the “American Athlete” exist: a first version, given to the athlete, in which the head is looking forwards. A number of copies of the first work exist in slightly different sizes, two of which are owned by The Olympic Museum. The second version, in which the athlete has his head turned to his right, does not show the extravagant muscular development of the first. This last version was probably done in 1904.
  • Artistic school or movement: Auguste Rodin (François-Auguste-René Rodin) drew his first sketches at the age of 10 and entered the “Petite École”, a school specialising in art and mathematics where he was taught by the painters Lecop de Boisbaudran and Belloc. But it was in 1855 that he discovered sculpture with Antoine-Louis Barye and Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse. He tried to enter the “École des Beaux-Arts” in the sculpture section three times, but his applications were denied each time due to his style, which did not suit the neo-classical taste of the institution. In 1875, Rodin left to travel in Italy, where he discovered the masters of Renaissance sculpture such as Donatello and Michelangelo. Back in Paris, he gave rise to a fierce controversy concerning his first exhibition. His life-sized statue “L'Age d'airain” caused a scandal because the critics could not believe that Rodin had not used a casting of a live model to create so realistic a work. This was the best publicity the artist could dream of. In the following years, he developed his “Rodin style” with new techniques such as assemblage, reduction or fragmentation, in total contradiction with the academic standards of his time. Camille Claudel became his pupil in 1883. Rodin and Claudel developed a long-term artistic and love relationship over the years, with very tumultuous and fruitful consequences. Rodin’s fame was growing constantly; he received official and other commissions and earned international recognition at the turn of the century. During the final stages of his life, Rodin donated his “hotel particulier”, his studio and his entire collection to the French government. The works occupied the Hotel Biron in Paris, turned into the Musée Rodin, and were still placed as Rodin had set them.
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Rights: Public domain, ©IOC/G.Peter
  • Medium: Bronze sculpture

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