H. de Roos - Towards a catalog of the Maclaren collection

6. A discussion with Gary Arseneau and Dr David Schaff (10)

The Accuracy Of Technical Dating Methods

The following answer expressed my doubts about the accuracy of the dating method the conservation report might offer:

I would be interested indeed to see the conservation report.  Your assessment "...that the stains that appear on our plasters did not happen overnight and must have taken many many years to occur" gives us an additional part of the puzzle.  Still, we do not know for how long a period of time the plaster were in a humid environment, and we do not know if the humidity level was 40% or 70%. 

David wrote me, in your opinion the plasters should be 80-100 years old, judging from the corrosion, stains, cracks, dirt and grime. That would be a very important assessment.

Of course, it will not be possible to determine exactly if a certain plaster was produced in 1915 or in 1920.  The difference would be only ca. 5% in relation to the 86 years that have passed since 1915. But it would be a very important step in countering the critique by Arseneau and Antoinette Romain.

Please allow me to play the devilīs advocate once again and ask you if you think its is really possible to narrow (down) the age of the plasters within a 20 yearīs period?

I am no technical expert on humidity absorption and rusting rates either.  But I know how plaster walls and iron tools look like in a humid basement.  From this most rudimentariy and pre-scientific knowledge, I guess only 20 or 30 years in a humid environment would be long enough to make those plaster armatures corrode pretty ugly. Please correct me when I am wrong. For obvious anatomical reasons, the genital area of a standing figure is very near to the plasterīs central vertical axis, so here the bleeding comes through first.

Also grime and dirt and dust build up much quicker than we like them to. (...) Do not clean a porous plaster sculpture standing in a humid foundry storeroom for 50 years and it will look pretty old, I guess.

[From: Letter to Mary Reid, 6 Dec. 2001]

I my reply to David Schaff, I utterered the same concern and insisted once more that the outer dimensions of the Maclaren plasters might very well prove their origin from the bon creux moulds but not their age of production:

Mary also wrote me on the possibility to date the plasters by examining the  effects of humidity and corrosion of the armatures. If it would be possible indeed to narrow the production date of these plasters to a period 80 till 100 years back from now, we would have 1901 till 1921 as a time range, which means 85% probability for a lifetime production year.

Judging from everyday household experience, I was not so sure if this method  would allow for such exact dating. Are you sure the same corrosion and  stains could not build up over, letīs say, 50 years instead of 80-100 years? (...)

Maybe I just do not know enough about plaster casting, but in my eyes, the fact a plaster positive shape corresponds exactly to a certain mould or to a sister positive plaster shape does not prove how old it is. If moulds and positive plasters do not change their shape over time spontaneously
(I never heard they would do so), then a positive plaster pulled from the original mould yesterday would have exactly the same dimensions as a sister positive plaster pulled from that mould one hundred years ago.

And a duplicate foundry plaster reproduced only yesterday from an original 100-year old original foundry plaster would match exactly both with this lifetime original foundry plaster and with the mould this original foundry plaster was pulled from and with other lifetime studio and representation plasters pulled from the same mould.(...)

What about the signatures? In Toronto, I did not check the plasters in detail in this respect. Do they have ink/pencil signatures or incised inscriptions, or foundry signatures and cachets? I saw the incised dedication "a mon ami D." in Barrie and the incised inscription at the back of the Balzac Head, but I did not check the rest. The Status Reports of June 2000 just say: "Signed: A. Rodin".

[From: Letter to Dr David Schaff, 6 Dec. 2001]




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