This work will be included in the forthcoming Rodin catalogue critique de l'oeuvre sculpté currently being prepared by the Comité Auguste Rodin at Galerie Brame et Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay under the archive number 2006-988B.
L'âge d'airain is widely considered to be Auguste Rodin's first great masterpiece, ranking alongside later works such as the Porte de l'Enfer, Le Penseur and Le baiser. It was originally conceived in 1875-1876 and was first exhibited in bronze and in plaster in 1877, to great scandal: the new scrutiny of reality that he brought to the field of sculpture was so extreme, the sense of modelling so observed, that he was accused of casting a live person. His anticipated breakthrough was to some extent delayed by these accusations, despite his submitting photographs of his model, the young soldier Auguste Neyt, as proof of his own work.
Rodin had originally hoped that exhibiting L'âge d'airain might lead to a commission from the French state. He was first disappointed, yet three years later, encouraged by a letter of support from a group of fellow sculptors who appreciated the importance of Rodin's work, Edmond Turquet acquired the plaster and requested a bronze cast. It was Turquet, in his authority as Undersecretary of State for Fine Arts, who then commissioned the Porte de l'Enfer, marking a new chapter in the sculptor's career and forging his reputation as the most prominent sculptor of his generation.
The moyen modèle of L'âge d'airain was conceived in 1903-1904. It is thought that Rodin cast three bronzes at the Alexis Rudier foundry between 1913 and 1917. Subsequently, the Musée Rodin cast seven examples with Alexis Rudier between 1927 and 1945 and nine at the Georges Rudier foundry between 1953 and 1971, of which this is one of the earliest produced.