With his imposing Monument to Balzac, completed after seven years of protracted labor, distractions, and numerous preliminary sketches, Rodin realized perhaps his most radical and self-expressive sculpture. The colossal and vital figure, almost superhuman, seemed to represent the sculptor's effort to identify himself with the writer's creative force. The Balzac project was awarded to Rodin in 1891 by the Writer's Association and was presented publicly at the Salon of 1898. But the pusillanimous literary society, then no longer led by Emile Zola, who had favored Rodin for the commission to memorialize Balzac, rejected the final version of the sculptor's monument on the ground that it was a crude, monstrous, incomprehensible image, "an ignoble and insane nightmare" that violated the writer's memory. With its broad summary planes and look of caricature, the work incited a critical tempest in the press, which finally supported the rejection.

Most of Rodin's contemporaries, expecting an academically exact likeness, could see only an ugly, shapeless and unfinished mass. But the head was recognizably Balzac's, and soon after the sculpture was rejected, the artistic, if not the whole critical, community, came to understand the work for what it was, a symbol of the vigor and heroism of a prolific literary genius. Actually, the monument seemed an almost literal realization of Lamartine's inspired description of the 19th Century novelist: "It was the face of an element; big head, hair disheveled, over his collar and cheeks, like a wave which the scissors never clipped; very obtuse; eye of the flame; colossal body."

The contemporary public, however, remained blind to the virtues and power of the Balzac, failing to react, other than negatively, to the work's abstract form and symbolism of a kind "yet unknown," to adopt Rodin's words. The sculpture represented one of the first occasions in which the artist's private values conflicted quite openly with outdated public expectations of monumental art.

-- excerpted from Modern Art by Sam Hunter and John Jacobus

In response to statue's rejection Rodin issued this statement:

One can find errors in my Balzac; the artist does not always attain his dream; but I believe in the truth of my principle; and Balzac, rejected or not, is nonetheless in the line of demarcation between commercial sculpture and the art of sculpture that we no longer have in Europe. My principle is to imitate not only form but also life. I search in nature for this life and amplify it by exaggerating the hollows and lumps, to gain thereby more light, after which I search for a synthesis of the whole... I am now to old to defend my art, which has sincerity as its defense. 

It is difficult to imagine an artist today invoking sincerity as a defense.