Rodin designed this figure as one of six colossal statues forming a monument to a group of fourteenth-century citizens of the northern French town of Calais. The six men had offered themselves as hostages to induce the English to lift a siege and spare their starving city. When modern Calais, about to tear down its medieval walls, decided to erect a monument reaffirming its ancient identity, Rodin pursued the commission eagerly and won it in 1884.
Rodin's burghers, following the conqueror's orders, are stripped down to their shirts, with halters around their necks and the keys to the city in their hands as a sign of submission. The sculptor portrayed the men as they were leaving their town for the English camp, where they expected execution. Rodin conceived the burghers less as ideally noble heroes than as ordinary men, ragged and emaciated after the ordeal of the siege, each experiencing a personal confrontation with death.
Jean d'Aire, his gaunt body visible through the sides of his shirt, stands upright as a pillar, with squared shoulders, massive clenched hands, and a stoically set jaw. In his bony face and sunken eyes one can read what his sacrifice is costing.
More information on this object can be found in the Gallery publication European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/european-sculpture-19th-century.pdf
on back of base: A. Rodin
Acquired before 1905 from the artist by Mr. and Mrs. John W. Simpson, New York; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Loan Collection of Paintings by Claude Monet and Eleven Sculptures by Auguste Rodin, The Copley Society of Boston, Copley Hall, 1905, no. 7.
- Renaissance and Modern Bronzes, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1908, no. 171, as Bourgeois de Calais.
- Wax Sculptures by Degas, Sculptures and Drawings by Rodin, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1965-1966, no cat.
- Nineteenth-Century Sculpture, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1974, unnumbered checklist.
- Bartlett, Truman H. "Auguste Rodin, Sculptor." American Architect and Building News (19 January-15 June 1889): 250.
- Geffroy, Gustave. "Le statuaire Rodin." Les Lettres et les Arts (1 September 1889). In Vilain, Jacques. Claude Monet-Auguste Rodin: Centennaire de l'exposition de 1889. Exh. cat. Musée Rodin, Paris, 1989: 64-65.
- Mirbeau, Octave. "Auguste Rodin." Le Journal (2 June 1895).
- Gsell, Paul, ed. "Auguste Rodin." L'Art. Paris, 1911: 102-116, 188.
- Cladel, Judith. Rodin: The Man and His Art. Translated by S.K. Star. New York, 1917: 152-166.
- Grappe, Georges. Catalogue du Musée Rodin. Paris, 1927: 51-53.
- Grappe, Georges. Catalogue du Musée Rodin. 5th ed. Paris, 1944: 59-62.
- Elsen, Albert E. Rodin. New York, 1963: 70-87.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 168.
- Descharnes, Robert, and Jean-François Chabrun. Auguste Rodin. Lausanne, 1967: 106-115.
- Spear, Athena Tacha. Rodin Sculpture in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, 1967: 40-47.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 148, repro.
- Goldscheider, Cécile. "La Nouvelle Salle des Bourgeois de Calais au Musée Rodin." La Revue du Louvre 21 (1971): 169, pl. 3.
- Tancock, John. The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin. Philadelphia, 1976: 376-402.
- de Caso, Jacques, and Patricia B. Sanders. Rodin's Sculpture: A Critical Study of the Spreckels Collection. San Francisco, 1977: 204-225.
- Judrin, Claudie, Monique Laurent, and Dominique Viéville. Auguste Rodin: Le Monument des Bourgeois de Calais (1884-1895) dans les collections du... Exh. cat. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Calais; Musée Rodin, Paris. Paris, 1977.
- McNamara, Mary Jo, and Albert E. Elsen. Rodin's Burghers of Calais. New York and Los Angeles, 1977.
- Lampert, Catherine. Rodin: Sculpture & Drawings. Exh. cat. Hayward Gallery, London, 1986: 101-115.
- Miller, Joan Vita, and Gary Marotta. Rodin: The B. Gerald Cantor Collection. New York, 1986: 41-71.
- Rilke, Rainer Maria. Auguste Rodin. Translated in G. Craig Houston. Rodin and Other Prose Pieces. London, 1986: 35-39.
- Le Nouëne, Patrick, and Hélène Pinet. Auguste Rodin: Le Monument des Bourgeois de Calais et ses photographes. Exh. cat. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Calais; Musée Faure, Aix-les-Bains. Calais, 1987.
- Beausire, Alain. Quand Rodin Exposait. Paris, 1988: 95, 96, 98, 100, 105, 116, 123, 151, 157, 158, 164, 192, 201, 205, 210, 212, 213, 217, 220, 231, 237, 250, 251, 253, 260, 266, 357, 359, 366.
- Fonsmark, Anne-Birgitte. Rodin: La collection du Brasseur Carl Jacobsen à la Glypthothèque. Copenhagen, 1988: 111-115.
- National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 304, repro.
- Butler, Ruth. Rodin. The Shape of Genius. New Haven and London, 1993: 199-213.
- Levkoff, Mary L. Rodin and His Time: The Cantor Gifts to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, 1994: 92-101.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 200, repro.
- Porter, John R., and Yves Lacasse. Rodin à Québec. Quebec, 1998: 95-105.
- Butler, Ruth, and Suzanne Glover Lindsay, with Alison Luchs, Douglas Lewis, Cynthia J. Mills, and Jeffrey Weidman. European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 345-348, color repro.