This work will be included in the forthcoming Auguste 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 2005-522B.
In July 1891 Rodin accepted a commission from the Société des Gens de Lettres to create a statue of Balzac. Rodin agreed to deliver the completed sculpture, which was to be erected in the square of the Palais Royal, within eighteen months for a fee of ten thousand francs. Rodin quickly immersed himself in this project, however it took him seven years to complete it. The Société was largely a conservative body and the expectations of many of its members were often at odds with Rodin's ideas.
Rodin decided to depict Balzac as he was nearing the age of fifty, in his prime and having completed many of his finest books. He would be clad in the loose Dominican friar's robe that the writer preferred to wear while working late into the night. Rodin went so far as to order a suit of clothes from Balzac's tailor, made to the writer's measurements. And Rodin's Balzac would have to possess a figure unlike any one would normally want to celebrate in a monument, for Balzac near the end of his life was a famously big eater, thickset and paunchy.
In contrast to the "wrestler" or "orator" pose of Étude type C, the novelist's legs are now positioned much closer together and his hands come together across his lower abdomen, as if he were holding his dressing gown closed. Rodin realized that excessive patterning and texture in the pleats of the robe would only distract the eye, so he opted for a more simple, rugged and planar treatment of the garment, which generates a grand upward sweep that directs the viewer's eye to the head, a thrustful movement reinforced by the pronounced backward tilt of the figure. Rodin felt he must elaborate the features of Balzac's face and head to suit the monumental scale and monolithic stance of the figure. He emphasized the writer's cascading mane of hair, his bulging brow and abundant mustache, modeled around deeply recessed eyes.
A critical storm, pent up over the years in anticipation of this moment, broke loose immediately following the opening of the Salon on 30 April 1898. Rodin's work was decried as a monstrous and disrespectful hoax. While touring the Salon with Rodin, Félix Faure, the French president, reportedly turned his back on the sculpture and walked away, saying nothing. While Rodin had ardent defenders among the most perceptive commentators, so many reviewers ridiculed the sculpture that the Société committee published a statement in the press on May 11th announcing they would not recognize the work and Rodin was refused his fee. Two weeks after the opening of the Salon, Rodin withdrew the sculpture and took it to his home in Meudon.
A full-size bronze cast of the Monument Honoré de Balzac was finally erected in Paris on 1 July 1939, more than twenty years after the sculptor's death, at the intersection of the boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse, where it may be seen today.