H. de Roos - What is an original Rodin?


While the argumentation brought forward by Arseneau in the Cummer Museum discussion  suggested too much emphasis on formal definitions, Arseneau´s critique recently expressed regarding Degas unsigned wax models posthumously cast in bronze and now presented in public Museums as ''Degas bronzes''  with a signature posthumously added, demonstrates that in some cases Museums indeed contribute to a false reception of the artist´s intentions. The same goes for posthumous casts of Barye works, - Barye being known as being as a perfectionist and highly skilled casting specialist himself.

Arseneau´s demand that all posthumous casts of an artist´s work should be named ''reproductions'' attacks the French "original edition" concept and insists the active participation of the artist is essential in creating art works - as opposed to mere objects -, even in the case of the compound arts.

As Arseneau explained at the Toronto symposium, the confusion about a sculpture´s status does not appear yet when the cast is produced and issued, both parties knowing very well when and from which model it was made. The confusion comes with time, like in the Barye case, where posthumous bronze casts after Barye models - the casts being more than a hundred years old now - by now seem respectable and fit for museum display as ''original Barye works''. [reprint of Arseneau´s letter of 21 Nov. 2001 attached as Appendix 1 after this chapter] 

Whereas the active participation and supervision of Rodin varied in different works and series of casts and the year of casting and the Musée Rodin copyright mark, being properly stamped on the Musée Rodin casts, at least prevents confusion about their posthumous nature, it should be admitted that the term ''original edition'' still may lead to false expectations with the general public. The Jacksonville press article quoted Butler, referring to the Cantor casts as "authorized originals, executed with the permission of the Musee Rodin". The subtle distinction Chatelain still made between the "original work" and the "original edition" drawn from it has eroded. Ruth Butler certainly is aware of this distinction, but for the public, these posthumous casts are announced as "originals".

Who visits a "Rodin exhibition", advertized as a "show of original Rodin sculptures", may hope to see casts that were made or at least authorized by the artist in person. The fact Rodin granted the French State a general and unlimited right of reproduction does not necessarily imply that as an artist, he would have agreed, in every single case, with the exact way single casts are executed or presented today. Catherine Lampert, Curator of the 1989 exhibtion "Rodin - Sculpture and Drawings" in the Hayward Gallery, London, notes that in posthumous casting, the decisions on what should be presented and how it should be executed varies with time, fashion and subjective preferences of museum officials:

When one looks back through the post 1950 editions (including the Musee Rodin and Cantor casts), one sees the product reflect the tastes of curators, fashions in patinas and the market, and within this many dubious decisions about what looks good in bronze on what scale as well as issues of which of the works that Rodin left in the studio merit casting.

[From: Letter from Catherine Lampert to the author, 18 Oct. 2001]

Therefore, Arseneau´s demand to abandon the practice of adding a signature after the death of the artist, - a signature that suggest the artists´s personal approval of the way the individual piece looks-, seems not to be too far-fetched. It finds its basis in the notion of authorship as a quality necessarily bound to the person of the artist.




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