Auguste Rodin's The Three Shades

The Three Shades

Auguste Rodin
French, 1840 – 1917

What’s the Back Story?

This sculpture is an enlarged version of a figural group that stood atop The Gates of Hell, a project conceived by the artist as a commission for the Decorative Arts Museum in Paris, France.

Rodin was inspired by the Inferno, the first section of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, written in 1320. He worked on The Gates of Hell for 37 years, eventually creating over 200 figures and groups. During his lifetime, he exhibited the artwork only once, but in a fragmentary state. In 1917, Rodin was persuaded to assemble the work to have it cast in bronze; he died before seeing the final result.

In Dante’s Inferno, the shades (the souls of the damned) stand at the entrance to Hell, pointing to the message, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Rodin made several studies of Shades before finally deciding to assemble three identical figures that seem to be turning around the same point. He placed them on top of The Gates of Hell, from where they could gaze down at the spectator, then had them enlarged to create a monumental independent group in 1904.

The artwork is currently on loan to the Speed and is on view in Gallery 3.

Auguste Rodin
French, 1840 – 1917
The Three Shades, sculpted before 1886; cast between 1969 and 1997
Loan courtesy of a private collection  L2020.8