H. de Roos - What is an original Rodin?


Three years later, decree no. 81.255 of 3 March 1981 on the suppression of fraud in art transactions, defines that only the first 8 copies plus 4 artist proofs, makes 12, may be called "original". All further copies have to be visibly marked as "reproduction":

Une loi de 1981 définit l'originalité d'un bronze par son tirage. Son décret d'application limite les tirages à 8 (plus 4 épreuves d'artiste numérotées de I à IV et portant les initiales EA). Tout fac-similé, surmoulage, copie et autres reproductions exécutés après 1981 doivent porter d'une manière visible et indélébile la mention "reproduction". 

Article 9 – All facsimiles, casts of casts, copies, or other reproductions of an original work of art as set out in Article 71 [17? – HdR] of Appendix III of the General Code of Taxes, executed after the date of effectivesness of the present decree, must carry in a visible and indelible manner the notation ‘Reproduction’.

[Jean Chatelain, An Original In Sculpture, in Elsen, p. 281, Appendix].

This definition is not just about fiscal treatment any more; it installs a definition that is binding for issuers in their own dealings with collectors. Another innovation is that this decree  - as far as I can judge from the quoted text - does not distinguish any more between between art works executed by the artist himself and casts, only supervised by the artist or issued by his beneficiaries or heirs. For a bronze cast, "executed entirely by the artist´s hand" - like Barye or Rosso would make them - there is no corresponding term anymore in the text of the 1981 decree. The distinction between lifetime and posthumous casts, between personally executed and other casts has been leveled out by strictly formal distinctions based on the arbitrary number twelve.

This means the 1981 French decree does not judge the technical quality of the casts and does not consider the artistic intention or participation of the artist any more, when it makes a distinction between "original edition" and "reproduction".  

Would this law have been passed one century earlier, we would have to deal today with numerous "lifetime reproductions", for example of The Age of Bronze*. The very fact this term shocks our view of these appreciated bronzes, treasured in respected Museums and private collections, would be one good reason to question the validity of these legal definitions when it comes to judging the artistic merits of single casts. As we will see, French law is the basis for other paradoxes as well.

*Till 1945, the Alexis Rudier Foundry cast appr. 150 examples altogether.
  See Emil Waldman, quoted by De Caso, p. 47, Note 28.




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