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Balzac, the Silhouette, 4 a.m
© Permission of the Estate of Edward Steichen

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Balzac, the Silhouette, 4 a.m 1908, published 1911

Not on display

This photograph is one of a series commissioned by the pioneering French sculptor Auguste Rodin of his statue of Balzac which had been commissioned by the ‘Société des Gens de Lettres’ in 1891. Yet when the three metre high plaster was exhibited in 1898, the committee said “it was nothing but a head stuck on a sack”, and refused it. In 1908, however, Rodin proposed to achieve the effect of the completed commission – the sculpture as it would appear in the dark density of bronze – by asking Steichen to photograph the work by moonlight. Rodin was deeply moved by the results and said: “you will make the world understand my Balzac through these pictures. They are like Christ walking on the desert”. It was finally cast in bronze and placed in the streets of Paris in 1939.

Glossary Open


The production of a sculpture by use of a mould to make a copy, usually in a more durable material, of the original work. The term is used to describe both the process and the resulting object.


When an individual or organisation employs an artist to execute a particular project, the process and the resulting work are termed a ‘commission’.

Cast, Commission


  • Acc. No. PGP 422.1
  • Medium Photogravure
  • Size 16.10 x 20.60 cm
  • Credit Purchased 2008