The Burghers of Calais
Pierre de Wissant is one of the figures from the sculpture group The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. The bronze statue is remarkably realistic in its execution. It emphasizes the drama of the moment. Everything about the sculpture conveys the man’s inner struggle: the tormented pose, the expressive gesture of despair, the leaden arms and hands, and the powerfully moulded surface, with its striking effects of light and shade.
The statue of Pierre de Wissant is a brilliant illustration of Rodin’s power. He began with a nude model and made numerous preliminary studies of arms, hands and the head. He then draped the nude figure with the shirt worn by those condemned to execution. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam has a life-sized, bronze preliminary study of the nude Pierre de Wissant.
A Burgher of Calais in Antwerp
The city of Calais commissioned The Burghers of Calais to commemorate the Hundred Years’ War. The bronze monument represents six prominent citizens handing over the keys of the French city to King Edward III of England. They are barefoot, dressed in sackcloth and have nooses around their necks. Rodin created 12 groups of the statues in his studio. They can now be found in collections all over the world. This statue of Pierre de Wissant is unusual in that Rodin created it especially for the KMSKA. It never formed part of a group.
A slew of monuments to commemorate historical events were commissioned in the 19th century. Rodin broke new ground, however, in the way he developed the idea. He broke with traditional academic rules, which required the figures to be placed on a high pedestal, above the public. Rodin approached the burghers as six individuals. And he placed them on the same level as the people, without a pedestal, making them a kind of tableau vivant. He came in for a lot of criticism as a result. It was only 38 years after the bronzes were finished that they were finally installed at a low level, eye to eye with the public. Sadly, it was too late for Rodin to see the result, as he had died seven years previously.
Rodin, French sculptor of The Thinker
Rodin was one of the founders of modern sculpture and is considered 19th-century Europe’s greatest practitioner of the art. Take his world-famous work, The Thinker, for instance. Rodin’s sculptures are realistic, with an immediate visual language that parallels that of Impressionism. He allowed shifts of form in his work and departed from reality, all of which heightened his sculptures’ expressive power. And that’s not all: Rodin also gave his figures a specific posture that enables us to empathize with their state of mind. His sculptures are similar in that respect to Symbolism. The statue Pierre de Wissant, for instance, symbolizes all those who fall victim to the powerful.