Recent Acquisitions at the Musée Rodin

1. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Mercury or The Sun, c. 1870
Pencil, Pen and Brown Ink,
Brown Ink Wash, Gouache - 19.8 x 13.2 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Christie’s Images Ltd, 2013

26/4/23 - Acquisitions - Paris, Musée Rodin - Three drawings were pre-empted by the Musée Rodin at Christie’s Paris on 11 April. They come from the collection of Eugène Rehns and were held by his descendants until now ; the collector also owned sculptures by the master, some of which will come up for auction next 28 May in Paris.

These sheets will join the already rich holdings made up of about 7,000 works on paper. The first one, sold for 9,375€ (including charges) represents a radiant Mercury or perhaps The Sun, sketched in just a few strokes, with a winged helmet which seems to have been changed later by the artist, adding goat horns, an animal often associated with the god. While the auction catalogue suggests dating this work from 1889, Nadine Lehni thinks it was produced earlier, around 1870, then revised by Rodin in the 1880’s. And though it may be tempting to associate this figure to the plaster Mercury exhibited in 1889 and used in The Gates of Hell, the chief curator emphasizes notably the many differences between the sculpture and the sheet.
Rodin’s drawings are in fact for the most part, independent from his sculptures. Several manners stand out in the course of his career : in the 1880’s, those known as the "noir" drawings, due to both their technique and subject, are imaginary compositions whose inspiration comes from mythological and literary sources, especially The Divine Comedy. In the last twenty years of his life, as of about 1896, he abandoned his imagination for nature and started working from life, producing female nudes in unacademic poses. With his eye observing the model, he would set down the movements of the female body in a few strokes, creating what the critic Roger Marx called "instantanées du nu féminin" [1]. This method of capturing the model [saisie du modèle] on the sheet was particularly well highlighted in an exhibition at the Musée Rodin from 18 November 2011 to 1st April 2012.

2. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Nude Woman with Legs
Bent and Crossed
, c. 1900
Pencil and Watercolor - 50.2 x 31.4 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Christie’s Images Ltd, 2013

3. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Nude Woman Sitting Cross-legged,
to right, Hands Joined together
under her Chin
, c. 1900
Pencil and Watercolor - 32 x 25 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Christie’s Images Ltd, 2013

With "the first draft accomplished, Rodin would return to his work, at times correcting it directly in red chalk but most often, would rectify it by tracing. His great preoccupation at this point was to preserve and even amplify the impression of life he obtained thanks to a live sketch [...] The tone he adds, the flow of terre de Sienne overruns the outline [...] with the effect of intensifying this enlargement, and also connecting the contours", explains Clément-Janin [2].

4. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Romeo and Juliet, 1902
Terracotta - 55 x 27.5 x 23.5 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Musée Rodin

Indeed, the master used his studies in drawings which John Kirk Varnedoe qualifies as of a "deuxième type". The artist simplifies the silhouette and outlines it with a fine and continuous stroke ; while maintaining the spontaneity of the pose, he obtains a simplified figure, rid of any awkwardness and any trace of work, moving from a naturalist vision to a synthethic perception. "Only the science of drawing allows [...] the expression of simplicity by fixing the essential", confided Rodin in an interview with Henri Dujardin Beaumetz in 1913.
This manner of working is illustrated in the two other drawings pre-empted by the museum, Nude Woman with Legs Bent and Crossed (39,900€) and Nude Woman Sitting Cross-legged (32,500€) (ill. 2 and 3) ; they repeat the first drafts, held in the collections. Their acquisition will now allow visitors to follow Rodin’s creative process.

Another work reveals the method used, this time, by the sculptor : a terracotta, Romeo and Juliet (ill. 4), pre-empted in another Christie’s auction on 28 November 2012 is a mix of The Kiss and Eternal Spring. There are few terracottas of this size and not many Shakespearian works in Rodin’s production as he preferred Dante’s atmosphere in the Inferno which relates the passion of Paolo and Francesca. A bronze of Romeo and Juliet, cast for the painter Jacques Emile Blanche in 1904 resides today at the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The studios in Meudon have plaster models which are very different from the bronze and the terracotta, whereas the Hermitage owns a marble.

5. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Saigon vase The Centaurs, 1933-1934
Enameled New Sèvres porcelain - H. 29.8 cm, D. 16.4 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Besch

6. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and Jules Desbois (1851-1935)
Saigon Vase The Centaurs, 1898
Enameled Sèvres porcelain - H. 31 cm
Paris, Musée Rodin
Photo : Christie’s Images Ltd, 2012

In concluding, in 2012 the museum pre-empted two Saigon vases in enameled Sèvres porcelain, called The Centaurs : the one acquired at a Besch auction in Cannes on 15 August 2012 (9,594€ including charges), was produced by the factory in 1933-34 from a model elaborated around 1891-1892 (ill. 5). The other one, in particular, auctioned at Christie’s on 21 November 2012 (16,250€) was created in 1898 and was in the Roger Marx collection (ill. 6). Called upon by Carrier Belleuse - who designed the shape of the Saigon vase -, Rodin worked for the Sèvres factory between 1879 and 1882 and created decors for vases with a very slight, almost graphic, relief. The facet of decorative arts in Rodin’s production was evoked notably in an exhibition in 2010 (see article in French) while another one, at the Musée départemental d’Arles antique, is currently exploring Rodin, la lumière de l’Antiquité. The motif of the centaur can be found in the "dessins noirs" as well as in the sculptures and of course in The Gates of Hell. These centaurs on porcelain have now joined Limbo and the Sirens.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, samedi 4 mai 2013


[1] Roger Marx, "Cartons d’artistes. Auguste Rodin", L’image, 1897.

[2] Clément-Janin, "Les Dessins de Rodin", in Les Maîtres du dessin, Paris, 15 October 1903, pp. 285-287.

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