H. de Roos - What is an original Rodin?



The discussion about the meaning of the original in Rodin´s sculptural work has its root in the nature of casting and the beginning of Modernism*. 

The sculptors of the 19th century did not intend to create unique pieces, they created models that were meant to be cast in bronze, or  translated into marble. The actual casting was mostly done by highly skilled foundry workers. There were some sculptors that did their own casts, like Barye, who produced and reworked his own moulds. Medardo Rosso, who made the patina for one of Rodin´s bronzes, also produced his own bronze casts. [Grunfeld 381]. But Rodin for practical purposes worked  with specialists.

For the plaster casting, he employed the Montagutelli brothers, the mouleurs Dieudoné and Eugène Guioche (father and son), an assistant called Barbier, and later Paul Cruet. Henri Lebossé was employed for reducing and enlarging the plasters. For bronze casting, he commissioned a series of different foundries, like Perzinka, Barbedienne, François Rudier and since 1900, the Alexis Rudier Foundry, managed by Eugène Rudier. Handworkers like Jean Limet accomplished the finishing of the bronzes. 

For carving the marble, he employed talented praticiens like Camille Claudel, Charles Despiau and Antoine Bourdelle. In 1967, Athena Spears questioned a popular opinion that Rodin hardly ever had touched the marble at all, and she found evidence that Rodin himself was a very skilled marble carver [Spears, p. 69, Tancock, p. 36-39] Still, he left most of the actual stone cutting to his assistants [Grunfeld, p. 624 f]. In his later years of fame, his work was so much in demand that he needed a large team to produce enough marble pieces. 

So with Rodin and other 19th century sculptors, the modeling was largely separated from the physical execution. Rodin sculptures are "art works in the age of their technical reproduction" (W. Benjamin), and with this, the meaning of the "original" itself starts to shift: the original model is not a final product but only the starting point of a system of multiplication, and one could even argue - like Rosalind E. Krauss did [Ambrosini, p. 15] -, this whole system of repetition and copying itself, this endless mirroring and recycling Rodin accomplished with his sculpture assemblages, his many alternative titles and versions and stages of completion, his use of the fragment, his coloring and clipping of his drawings, his art factory employing dozens of people, was in the end Rodin´s most important accomplishment: the invention of Modernism.

* In painting and drawing,  it is simpler to define what is an original, although it is not always easy to identify the original works and sort out the counterfeits. For a discussion of fake Rodin drawings, I refer to the exhibition:
Rodin Drawings, True and False, 20 Nov. 1971 - 30 Jan. 1972, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

132 drawings by Rodin and 28 forgeries of the artist's work were presented together with 4 sculptures from the Gallery's collection. The Rodin drawings extended from earliest student exercises to the late line drawings of dancers and nudes. Two problems long connected with the drawings of Rodin were addressed in this investigative exhibition: the question of the chronology of his work and the existence of a large number of forgeries.
One section of the exhibition showed 9 works by the known forger Ernst Durig and two others known as Hand A and Hand B. In the last section, True and False, viewers were invited to test their eye with 30 unlabeled originals and fakes and see if they could judge authenticity based on what they had learned in other parts of the exhibition. Also shown were related Rodin sculptures from the National Gallery and other American collections.
Following the settlement of the Ernst Durig estate, which included 155 forgeries, J. Kirk T. Varnedoe, National Gallery Finley fellow and doctoral candidate at Stanford University, and Professor Albert Elsen of Stanford University chose to investigate Rodin's work.

Source: www.nga.gov/past/data/exh364.htm




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