Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

Alphonse Mucha and Auguste Rodin formed a long-lasting friendship. It is not known when the two artists met, but by the turn of the century they were certainly more than acquaintances. Mucha’s 1899 bronze, Nude on a Rock, is cast from a hand-moulded mass of clay and reveals the clear influence of the older artist’s sculptural practice.

In May 1902, Rodin visited Prague on the occasion of an exhibition of his work organised by the Manès Union of Artists. Mucha and Rodin's pupil, the Czech sculptor Josef Mařatka (1874-1937), accompanied Rodin to Prague on this occasion.  The exhibition ran from 10 May - 15 July 1902 in a purpose-built pavilion designed by Jan Kotěra (1871-1923) in the Kinsky Gardens, Prague. The largest exhibition of Rodin's work held outside France during the sculptor’s lifetime, it featured 157 works including drawings. The exhibition not only marked an important event in the Czech cultural calendar but sent out a powerful political message on Prague’s artistic alliances with Paris. In the context of a mounting rivalry between the Czech lands and Germany, this gesture spoke volumes.

Rodin arrived in Prague on 28th May after the official opening. Mucha recalled:

‘We had rooms next to one another, so we lay on our beds with the doors open. Rodin must have been considerably disturbed because after a while he suggested we should walk around the rooms a bit. I got up and we took a little stroll in our nightshirts, but soon Rodin began to be rather worried because there was a gathering noise outside. Suddenly he grabbed my sleeve. From the street there came a mighty roar like an explosion: “Vive Rodin! Vive la France!” No chance of a rest now, Rodin rushed away from the window and from that moment avoided it like the plague, giving it a wide berth.’

A banquet was given in Rodin’s honour on 30th May and Mucha was invited to design the place names and menus. Following the exhibition, Mucha and Mařatka accompanied Rodin to Bohemia and Moravia.

The artists remained friends until Rodin’s death in 1917. Following Mucha’s departure from Paris in 1904, the two artists wrote to each other regularly, and Mucha would keep the older artist, whom he referred to as “Maître”, informed of important developments in both his work and his personal life. From Zbiroh castle in Bohemia, for example, he wrote:

'I wanted to tell you how happy I am to finally leave America and establish myself in Europe again. I am trying to build myself a studio in Bohemia - in the countryside - two hours from Prague on the train, in a beautiful landscape, far from all life and all distractions. Here I'll be able to work seriously! My long term dream has finally come true, and I have been able to gain sufficient independence in America to enable me to concentrate on producing this work, which I wish to devote the rest of my life to. I will paint a cycle of large paintings. The subject: The Slav Epic. The dimension of the works: 9m long x 6m high. The number of works: 20. The city of Prague, to whom I will bequest the works, has already voted to build a special gallery in which the paintings will be hung - so all that remains for me to do is to produce the works to the best of my ability. So I will do my best! I will be sure, should it be of interest to you, to keep you informed on how this work develops, and I hope on my next trip to be able to show you something.'

Each time he passed through Paris, Mucha would call in on Rodin. On one such occasion in 1911 Rodin dedicated a small bronze cast of Les Femmes Damnées to his friend. This work is still in the Mucha Foundation collection today.