“I have unbounded admiration for the nude. I worship it,” Auguste Rodin used to say. He sought out models with strong, vigorous bodies, whether they were professional or not. Auguste Neyt, a muscular telegraphist, who remained friends with the sculptor after posing for The Age of Bronze, was an amateur. At the time, Rodin was struggling to be recognized as an artist in his own right and was working relentlessly to produce a great piece of sculpture.
Shown at the Salon des Artistes Belges, in Brussels, in 1877, the statue met with unanimous acclaim, although one art critic suspected Rodin of having used a life cast to make it. This charge benefited Rodin though, because people were so eager to see this for themselves.
Nevertheless, to quash this accusation, a few months later, Rodin turned for help to Gaudenzio Marconi, a prolific photographer of nudes. Intending to present the work again, this time at the Salon des Artistes Français, Paris, he commissioned Marconi to take photographs, from the front and back, of August Neyt naked, in the pose of The Age of Bronze . These efforts were, however, all in vain. The jury never even looked at the photographs.
Critics of the period were also dismayed by the subject, for Rodin not only abandoned all of the elaborate repertory of symbols with which academic sculptors habitually equipped their works, but also had stripped the figure of the spear originally carried in his left hand, relying on the expressiveness of the figure itself to convey its meaning. In addition, he changed the title from The Vanquished (Le Vaincu), possibly an allusion to the suffering and demoralization of his countrymen during the Franco-Prussian War, to the classical, but more ambiguous, The Age of Bronze (L’Âge d’Airain). Later the work acquired still other new titles, by instance, Man Awakening to Nature. The Metropolitan Museum has retained the title by which the bronze was known at the time of its purchase from Rodin.