H. de Roos - What is an original Rodin?
But are legal regulations and the chances the market
offer the only measure for what is just? The expiration of copyright
protection means that today, bronze casts can be produced that are
perfectly legal without ever being authorized or intended by Rodin and the
donation treaties. If they meet the quality standard Rodin would have
accepted for himself, can we accept them as "ethical"
then, or "authentic", or even "original"?
Already in the "Statement on Standards for Sculptural Reproduction and Preventive Measures to Combat Unethical casting in Bronze" published in 1974 and endorsed by the Association of Art Museum Directors, Albert Elsen and colleagues stated that applicable law alone does not offer sufficient criteria for ethical posthumous casting. For example, the practice of surmoulage on existing bronzes or transferring a sculpture from one medium to the other is not addressed at all by the law; the whole question of quality is left out. Elsen considered surmoulage on existing bronzes as unethical.
On the other hand, we know many Rodin sculptures –
like The Kiss - were cast in bronze with Rodin´s explicit consent from
moulds derived from marbles, which in turn were carved after plasters
[Spears p. 71]. So what is the decisive difference between both kinds of surmoulage
and medium transfer? The fact that the surmoulage on the bronze
always constitutes a loss of quality as compared to the plaster this
bronze was reproduced from, whereas the marble at least adds a moment of
genuine artistic interpretation and handcrafting? The fact, Rodin
explicitly authorized the marbles to be translated into bronzes, whereas
he never would allow his bronzes to be reproduced by surmoulage?*
In this point, like in the practice of posthumous casting generally, artistic and economic viewpoints are closely intertwined, so that the full disclosure of financial interests and the absence of private profit-making as the primary motivation for such casting should be considered as an additional ethical criterion.
*There is a noted exception, though: to replace the first Hébrard cast of the enlarged Thinker at the Louisville Sales Exposition in 1904, Rodin sent a bronze-tinted plaster created by surmoulage on a bronze cast to the United States. This plaster was later presented to the Metropolitan Museum by the French State commissioners - Tancock, p. 121.
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