Contemporary bronze casts
During Rodin’s lifetime collectors and museums were able to visit Rodin’s studio, where they were presented with plasters from which they could order bronze castings or marble carvings from the models
Equally today, following Rodin's instructions, and in the case of editions that are not sold-out, or in the instance of plaster models that have never been cast in bronze -the so called 'Les Inédits,' it is possible to acquire bronze casts made from original plasters and moulds that were given by Rodin to the French state as part of his 'donation' of 1916. As is the case with The Gates of Hell, which is considered to be Rodin’s masterpiece, and other major works such as the Monument à Balzac -owing in part to the fact that the subjects were simply too progressive to be understood, several important models were never cast in bronze during the artist’s lifetime, some of which remain available for sale, providing the edition of 12 has not yet been fully realised.
THE LAW FOR ORIGINAL EDITIONS IN BRONZE
Article R. 122-3 of the Code de la Propriété Intellectuelle [Intellectual Property Code] stipulates that editions of sculptures limited to twelve numbered casts, including artist’s copies, are considered to be original works of art. In accordance with Decree no. 93–163, relating to the Musée Rodin, passed on 2 February 1993 and consolidated on 7 December 2005, the museum limits its original editions to twelve casts, numbered 1/8 to 8/8 and I/IV to IV/IV, including the existing original editions.
Even as the edition size of Rodin bronzes is nowadays limited by law, there is still an ongoing debate about whether a posthumous cast is inferior to a lifetime cast. This is based on a misunderstanding of the process of creating a bronze sculpture.
In the post-war period, procedures in casting and patination varied at different moments in time, resulting in noticeable differences in quality. Consequently, there is presently a commitment on the part of the Musée Rodin to give particular attention to the subject of patina. Scrutiny of prior casts, including Alexis Rudier casts known to have been patinated by Limet, but also lifetime casts which Rodin most certainly supervised, associated with the empirical knowledge of how bronzes have aged in the last 100 years, have given today’s castings by the Musée Rodin all the nuances reminiscent of Rodin’s early casts, including the green undertones, the brown or black highlights, and even at times the emergence of the natural bronze material, all of which enhance the subtleties of the master’s modelling. Furthermore, the museum considers the subject-matter and placement of the work: Sculptures destined for the outdoors might be given a green patina, as that is the colour to which bronze will necessarily tend when exposed to the elements, while sculptures for the indoors might have a more nuanced patina -green undertones with brown highlights to enhance reflection and modelling. The current Musée Rodin team with whom I have the privilege of partnering, and with whom I consult in regards to the specific questions of patinas, has been executing outstanding casts that will remain as some of the best among the good bronzes produced in over a century. Such is the case with Torse de la Grande Ombre IV/IV, cast in 2015 by Susse Fondeur, pictured below.
Torse de la Grande Ombre
Bronze ed. IV/IV cast in 2015 by Susse Fondeur
Notice the warm brown patina, laced with delicate green undertones that accentuate the exquisite modelling of the torso.
A CASE IN POINT: THE MONUMENT TO VICTOR HUGO
In 1889, Rodin was invited to create a 'Monument to Victor Hugo', to be positioned at the north transept of the Panthéon in a large setting comprising 100 sculptures. Although a plaster model for the work was a popular success in the Paris Salon of 1897, the completion of this version of the monument and its installation in the Panthéon never took place. A modified version of it in marble was erected in the gardens of the Palais Royal in Paris, where it stood until 1933. Rodin's 1897 original model sank into oblivion. Only in 1950, when Victor Hugo´s 150th anniversary, the year 1952, was nearing, the City of Paris, looking for a suitable monument, thought of Rodin's attempts again, and commissioned a bronze cast from a model Ruth Butler describes as a:
"... three-figure plaster in the Musée Rodin, a work that had so been out of view for the past fifty years that it was neither mentioned nor illustrated in the official catalogue of the museum, a catalogue considered as nearly complete".
It would take another 14 years before the bronze cast could be installed on the junction of the Avenue Victor-Hugo and Avenue Henri Martin, on 18 June 1964. In the sculpture, Hugo is shown lost in thought, listening to inspirations personified by figures called La Voix intérieure (after the title of a collection of Hugo's poems) and La Muse tragique. Although the monument to Victor Hugo is one of Rodin's most elaborate creations — he revised and refined his conception of the work for more than a decade — it is among his least known.
The Monument to Victor Hugo, which is still available for purchase (only three of the 12 casts have been produced thus far), gave birth to two individual sculptures, La Muse tragique and La Voix intérieure. The plaster of La Muse tragique was shown in 1896 in an exhibition at the Musée Rath in Geneva and caused a big controversy when, cast in bronze it entered the museum collection the subsequent year. This masterpiece is a prime example of a work that is due to be further edited in bronze. Similarly, although the large version of La Voix intérieure —the third figure in the Monument à Victor Hugo, has been cast in bronze in the large size, the small version before enlargement had actually never been cast in bronze until 2017. This is the subject of a further chapter: 'Les Inédits.'