When the art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866–1939) asked Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) how to distinguish a false from a true Rodin, the sculptor replied: “Only I can do so. It’s quite simple. A true Rodin is one that has been cast with my consent; the false is done without my knowledge.”
Rodin’s statement is true, but it is not as simple as it seems—at least relative to the determination of the authenticity of his casts today. First, he has been dead for a century, so he certainly is not able to speak now about the authenticity of any particular cast. Moreover, he knew that there were illegitimate casts made during his lifetime and illegitimate casts have been made since his death. Moreover, Rodin complicated matters in 1916 when he willed to the French state his studio full of sculptures and models along with the authorization to make posthumous casts in return for France assuming stewardship of his studio and collection in perpetuity as a public museum. In short, he knew that the Musée Rodin would make posthumous casts of his sculptures; therefore, those too would be “true” Rodin sculptures.
Four of these “true” Rodins are on display in the small exhibition, Rodin: Realism, Fragments, and Abstraction. Jean de Finnes, The Three Shades, and The Gates of Hell, Third Maquette are on loan from Iris Cantor, who with her husband B. Gerald Cantor built the third largest collection of Rodin sculpture in the world (only surpassed by the Musée Rodin in Paris and the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia) and gave most of it to Stanford University. The Head of Jean d’Aire is from the MMFA collection.
The monumental figure of Jean de Finnes and the full-scale Head of Jean d’Aire are both from Rodin’s renowned Burghers of Calais (1884–1889), an innovative memorial to heroes who volunteered their lives to lift the siege of their town during the Hundred Years War (1337–1453). They illustrate Rodin’s distinctive approach to realism, which included a tendency to abstract features like hands and feet for expressive effect.
The Three Shades and the maquette, or study, for The Gates of Hell (1880–1917) are two out of scores of individual sculptures associated with the artist’s commission for the entrance portal of a decorative arts museum that was never built. Although Rodin knew that the commission was canceled, he continued to work on the enormous sculptural composition based on the Divine Comedy (ca. 1308–1321) by Dante (ca. 1265–1321) throughout his life.
The Three Shades illustrates the master sculptor’s avant-garde style of fragmenting and reassembling sculptures in new compositions, often evolving their titles and meaning in the process. The Three Shades are three identical casts of a figure he originally titled Adam. Rodin decided to replicate the figure and group them as the finial element on the Gates. Close inspection reveals that each of the figures is missing its right hand, a conscious decision Rodin made for compositional reasons.
In addition to the four original Rodin sculptures, the exhibition includes several reproductions of photographs from the Musée Rodin that show the artist and his work in progress. Rodin used photography to record assemblages of sculptural components in compositions that he wanted to study, often drawing or making notes on the photographs.
Together, these photographic reproductions and these “true” Rodin posthumous bronzes give us a glimpse at the genius of the “Father of Modern Sculpture” who used realism, abstraction, and fragmentation in unprecedented ways to create art that continues to resonate with viewers around the world.
Michael W. Panhorst, Ph.D.
Image 1: Unknown photographer, Portrait of Rodin wearing a beret and a coat covered with plaster, 1880, Reproduction of albumin print, From the Collection of the Musée Rodin, Paris, Ph.00311
Image 2: Installation photograph of Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917), Jean de Fiennes (Clothed), modeled 1885-1886, Musée Rodin cast 2/8 in 1981, bronze, 82 x 48 x 38 inches. Lent by Iris Cantor.
Image 3: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917), The Three Shades, modeled 1880–1904, Musée Rodin cast 10 in 1981, bronze, 40 ¾ x 37 ½ x 20 ½ inches. Lent by Iris Cantor