I Am Beautiful (Je suis belle)
Auguste Rodin ( French, 1840 - 1917 )
In I Am Beautiful, Auguste Rodin reused and reconfigured pieces from his previous sculptures to create new works. Derived from The Crouching Woman, the female figure, in a crouching, almost fetal, position is now embraced by a standing man who seemingly reaches to the heavens to rescue her. She appears again in The Gates of Hell (final assembly 1917, Musée Rodin, Paris), where she appears on the tympanum to the left of The Thinker. The male figure, who appears to rise from the bronze base in I Am Beautiful, is The Falling Man in The Gates of Hell; there he plunges into hell from underneath the lintel at the top left of the great bronze doors. By uniting these figures in I Am Beautiful, Rodin created a juxtaposition of opposites—female and male, closed and open, falling and rising, fetal and erect.
Rodin cast this work with a lengthy inscription from Baudelaire's poem "La Beauté" ("Beauty," in "Les Fleurs du mal"):
"Je suis belle, ô mortels! Comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où Chacun s'est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poëte un amour
Eternal et muet ainsi que la matière."
(Baudelaire 1961, 20)
"I am beautiful, oh mortals, like a marble dream,
And my breast on which each sacrifices himself in turn,
Was made to inspire poets with a love
As eternal and silent as matter."
(Trans. Julie Lawrence Cochran)
For unknown reasons, Rodin changed the last line of Baudelaire's masterpiece to "Etant alors muet ainsi que la matière" (So being mute as matter), making the quatrain unclear. As is often the case, Rodin chose a literary analogue that is as ambiguous as his forms. In its commingling of violence and empathy, restless movement, and evocation of a famous poet, whose early death from syphilis in 1867 came as a shock to vanguard artists, I Am Beautiful embodies a difficult notion of beauty.
Richard Brettell, Impressionist Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 82-83.
- During Rodin's lifetime, the work was known by several different titles, the variety of which indicates that the sculpture's meanings are unclear. It seems that the work was first exhibited as The Rape when it was shown in 1899 and 1900 in exhibitions conceived under Rodin's direction. It was also shown as The Cat and Carnal Love. The bronze version, however, was later cast with a lengthy inscription from Baudelaire's poem "La Beauté" ("Beauty," in "Les Fleurs du mal") and titled I Am Beautiful (Je suis belle).
The Rodin Museum, Philadelphia
Learn more about the life and work of Auguste Rodin from the American Rodin Museum.
Musée Rodin, Paris
Learn more about the life and work of Auguste Rodin from the French Musée Rodin.
Read the 1857 edition of Charles Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil) including the poem "La Beauté" ("Beauty").