H. de Roos - What is an original Rodin?


In the rest of his essay, Chatelain starts stepping back from this conclusion, stating that in the compound arts, "the artisan who intervenes to complete the work of the artist (…) only fulfills the role of actualizer of the idea which belongs to the latter. He is an indispensable helper, but as such, no more than an executor. As his contribution is solely technical and not creative, it is open to repetition. " [Elsen, p. 276]. Although this may describe the role of the artisan in relation to the creative artist correctly, Chatelain uses this description to suggest that from the moment the master artist has delegated the practical execution of his work to the artisan, the process of realization is merely technical and no artistic intervention is needed anymore. This is the basis for the concept of the "original edition":

Because the compound arts are arts of repetition, the find themselves exposed to the danger of no longer being considered real arts at all. At best they are regarded as "crafts", on a lower level than the noble arts. Some workshops have resigned themselves to the situation and become ordinary commercial operations (…). Other disciplines have endeavoured to fight, to show that while turning out repetitions, they pursue a profession in art, in the full sense of the term. In order to succeed at this, they have come up with the notion of the "first edition."

(…) Of all the technically possible editions of a work, the first is considered more noble and beautiful than those that follow. This original edition therefore constitutes for the reproductive arts an intermediate category between what in the simple arts are original works, and what in the compound arts are simply reproductions. The carrying out of this notion gives rise to many difficulties in application, for it is based on an ambiguity which arises from the term "original edition" itself. (…) Originality implies uniqueness; an edition implies diffusion, multiplication and series. 

[From: Jean Chatelain, An Original in Art, Elsen p. 276f]

Chatelain describes the ambiguity of the "original edition" concept as caused by the oppostion of uniqueness  - an "original" should be unique - and multiplication. Closer examination learns this is not the true problem. As discussed already, an artist like Rodin produced originals in series. Every bronze cast whose production he actively supervised and directed, is an unique original within an edition of equivalent originals. The term "original edition" suggests we are dealing with such an edition of such originals, all created or at least individually authorized by the artist in person. But if we continue to read Chatelain´s essay, we find that the artist has been removed from Chatelain´s discourse: instead of keeping to the artist´s active participation as the decisive characteristic of such an original edition, he proposes rarity :

The first guarantee of an original edition, and without doubt the most important in the eyes of most art lovers, is its rarity, which arises of the purely arbitrary decision to limit examples to a given number. (…) In every case the way that the value of published editions is the same: systematic rarefaction. It would be hypocritical or naïve to find this surprising: whether an art work or something else, anything is more valued when its is rare. All things considered, it is quite normal for this formula of rarefaction to be used to boost the value of arts which might otherwise be underestimated due to the fact that they are reproductive arts, producers of multiples.

[From: Jean Chatelain, An Original in Art, Elsen p. 277f]

A second criterion he sees in the origin of the examples: 

"Original edition" implies that all the pieces come from the same matrix, from the same model, which constitutes the original work." [p. 278] 

The term "original work" is thus restricted to the model or matrix. In his sense, casts made from this model are not "original works". This contradicts our knowledge that the creative power of a sculptor like Rodin was not limited to delivering a model to the foundry and hat a cast produced and finished by an artist like Barye is as much an "original work" as the preceding clay models and plasters. Moreover, the term "original edition", as already indicated above, suggests that the issued examples are all such casts, manufactured by the artist himself: Chatelain´s "original edition" gives us less than promised. This is not Chatelain´s personal fault, though: it reflects the practice of art business trying to create and preserve value independent from the artist´s active participation.




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