H. de Roos - What is an original Rodin?


But unlike various other artists, who destroyed all their moulds or – in the field of photography – negatives before their death, Rodin left his over 5000 plasters and moulds to the French State with unlimited reproduction rights and did not care to take precautions for the time the copyright would run out. 

Still, this does not mean all of these plasters would be suitable to produce bronzes from, or that any quality of casting would be sufficient to represent the artist. Rodin, like any other sculptor, preferred to be in control which casts were exhibited and came to the market.

In April 1904 he requested the first Hébrard life-size cast of the Thinker (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, then deaccessioned to University of Louisville) to be removed from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis, and substituted by a plaster: once more a question of artistic quality [De Caso, p. 137, Footnote 17]. As Elsen tells us, Rodin had not seen this cast, because his rejection was based on reports. For the second Hébrard cast, produced by July 1904, Rodin decided to have the chasing and patination done at one of his own studios; Hébrard offered Rodin to supply the metal Rodin would need to make repairs, because the same bronze must be used as in the casting [Elsen II - p. 84]. One might argue, the first Hébrard cast was no "original Rodin", as opposed to the second example, finished under Rodin´s direct supervision.

In another case, Rodin expressed his fears to Sir William Rothenstein that the friends to whom he had presented plasters might have them cast as bronzes:

"Rodin insisted they were not suitable for casting", reported Rothenstein. "He expressed himself strongly on the subject, and begged me to keep his views in mind if ever I saw casts of this kind".

[William Rothenstein, Men and Memories, Vol. I, 1931, p. 323, quoted by Tancock, p. 34]

To the art dealer Vollard, who had asked the Master how to distinguish a false from a true Rodin, the artist 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." [de Caso, p. 341]. 

The core of the Toronto presentation by Gary Arseneau, lithographer and art dealer from Florida is, that we should stick to this restriction: "Dead men don´t sculpt". Arseneau insists, all Rodin casts produced after the artist´s dead are no "originals" and may be called "reproductions" at the most, in accordance with the definition from Ralph Mayer´s Dictionary of Art Terms & Techniques:

Reproduction: A general term for any copy, likeness, or counterpart of an original work of art or of a photograph, done in the same medium as the original or in another, and done by someone other than the creator of the original.

In this sense, Arseneau keeps to the definition originally provided by Chatelain and rejects the "original edition" concept that suggest posthumous casts would be "original Rodins". The Musée Rodin´s standpoint is, Rodin´s transfer of reproduction rights to the French State constitutes exactly that kind of consent referred to by Rodin, that is needed to legitimize - only - the posthumous casts by the Musée Rodin as "original Rodins", and sees itself backed by French law and the customs of the modern art market.




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