The market & the lifetime vs. posthumous debate
Certainly owing to variations of quality in casts, but also to a muddled perception of the classification of editions (editions of 12 vs. larger earlier editions –see Barbedienne editions of Le Baiser et Eternel Printemps) Rodin works have been generally undervalued. To begin with, the legislation limiting original casts to 12 was only signed into law in the latter part of the 20th century (decree of June 10, 1967). Moreover, until the relatively recent creation of the Comité Rodin, which has now become the unquestioned authority for the authentication of Rodin sculptures, recognized by the major auction houses and the market-at-large, there was no independent body one could turn to for authentication. Clarification in regards to the size of editions and the excellent work of the Comité Rodin has given enormous confidence to the market. Consequently, added to the realization that Rodin is rightfully considered the father of modern sculpture, the fact that “one now knows what one buys” has lead to an upward trend in the Rodin market. In addition to the sale of several important recent casts including the Aphrodite, grand modèle for over 1 million US dollars, which cast in 2014 with the edition number 1/8 was in fact an “inédit” (a previously un-cast model), two major Rodin works (executed during his lifetime) achieved records at auction: The Iris Messagère des Dieux was sold for close to 17 million US dollar in February 2016, and the Éternel Printemps pictured below fetched over 20 million US dollars in May 2016.
This marble was sold at Sotheby’s for 20.4 million US dollars on May 9, 2016.
Lifetime vs. Posthumous debate
It all depends on the quality of the casting and the beauty of the patina
Although there undoubtedly are some outstanding lifetime casts of works by Rodin, the mystique of the master having “touched” bronze castings is grossly exaggerated. The only work that was actually done “in-house” -meaning within the boundaries of Rodin’s studio- was the master’s hand-modeling of sculptures in clay; the translation from the clay into plaster done by Rodin’s in-situ plaster artisans; and to a certain degree his supervision of marble carvings by practitioners (“les praticiens” are skilled and often identified marble carvers who were commissioned by the master to execute certain models in marble). On the other hand, the bronze castings were always executed in offsite foundries such as Griffoul & Lorge, Barbedienne, and the Fonderie Alexis Rudier, to name just a few.
Fonderie Alexis Rudier is known to have achieved excellent results. For example, the Iris Messagère des Dieux that recently sold at auction for close to 17 million US dollars was cast by this foundry between 1902 and 1905, and is clearly an exceptional bronze to which great attention was given in regards to chiseling and patina. Other foundries were not always as diligent. Rodin signed a contract with the Barbedienne Foundry, which gave them the casting rights to produce the Kiss and the Eternal Spring in several hundred copies, and in four different sizes. Needless to say, Rodin probably never saw most of these casts, and it is a known fact that the quality of execution of these Barbedienne bronzes can actually be quite poor. After Rodin’s death, the French state (acting through the newly created Musée Rodin) awarded the contract to continue producing Rodin bronzes to the Fonderie Alexis Rudier, which was then run by his son Eugène Rudier, who in turn hired the great patina expert Jean Limet (1855-1941), Rodin’s old friend and colleague. In the years following Rodin’s death, until circa 1945, the Fonderie Alexis Rudier produced some of the most beautiful Rodin casts in existence, all of which are posthumous.
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