The starting point for this sculpture was a public competition launched in 1879 for a monument to commemorate the defence of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Rodin submitted a composition of uncompromising narrative and stylistic brutality, highly influenced by Rude’s Departure of the Volunteers of 1792, which adorns the façade of the Arc de Triomphe. Rodin aspired to return to the forms and spirit of liberty characteristic of a Republican aesthetic. Judging his proposal too daring, the jury turned it down in favour of a more academic composition by Barrias.
The sculpture’s maquette remained in Rodin’s studio, nourishing his reflections and soon winning over connoisseurs. At the very end of 1899, he enlisted the aid of the foundry owner Léon Perzinka to render it in bronze. By that time famous, Rodin was then preparing the retrospective of his work at the Pavillon de l’Alma that would be shown concurrently with the Exposition universelle of 1900, for which this particular example of the work was intended. Its cast and patina, characteristic of Perzinka’s artisanal approach, offered an entirely different version from those executed by the celebrated Rudier firm, Rodin’s main founder. Unlike Rudier, in his workshop Perzinka worked using the sand-casting technique, joining the pieces after they were cast with only modest means at his disposal.
Acquired by the Austrian collector Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer in 1901, The Defence was seized by the Nazis with the intention of incorporating it in the collection of the future Führermuseum Hitler had planned for Linz. It was restored to its rightful owners after the war, and thus made its way to Canada.