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How a Rodin Sculpture Was Made

Uncrating Rodin sculptures at the Jepson Center in Savannah, GA

At this moment, Telfair Museums’ installation team at is busily at work upstairs in the galleries. They have spent the past few weeks meticulously unpacking and installing a total of 32 bronze figures by French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), on loan to Telfair Museums from the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundations for the exhibition Rodin: The Human Experience. The exhibition opens to the public on September 1 and will be on view through January 7, 2018.

At the peak of his career, Rodin was regarded as the greatest sculptor since Michelangelo. His vigorous modeling emphasized his personal response to each subject, and he captured movement and emotion by altering traditional poses and gestures. Today, Rodin’s pioneering sculpture is seen as a crucial link between traditional and modern art. Although many people have studied Rodin’s work in art history classes or viewed it at museums, they often have questions about how Rodin’s powerful bronze sculptures are made.

Rodin’s bronzes were cast through the lost wax casting process. Rodin was trained as a modeler, and he created his work first in clay. When he was satisfied with what he created, craftspeople were assigned to create replicas of the master’s model, first in clay or in plaster, and from these, in stone (carvings) or in metal (usually bronze, thus castings). Although the master would supervise, he rarely participated in the creation of these stone or metal sculptures. Instead he relied on his trusted and treasured craftspeople and on his hired foundries to guarantee that the resultant carving or casting would be to his satisfaction.

At the time Rodin lived, artists did not number their casts and rarely limited the number of casts that could be made of a piece. Indeed, we know Rodin was happiest when he was selling scores of casts of a work. For instance, between 1898 and 1918, at least 319 casts of The Kiss were produced. It was among his most popular pieces and was available in four sizes. In order to meet the demand for his sculpture, after 1900 Rodin may have had as many as 50 assistants at work in his studio.

Visitors to Telfair’s exhibition will be able to view this fascinating video showing the many steps involved in the lost wax casting process:

Just before he died in 1917, Auguste Rodin authorized the posthumous casting of his bronzes so that his legacy would be preserved. The Musée Rodin in Paris determines what is a true and original cast and rigorously exercises this authority. By law all posthumous casts must be approved by the Musée. If approved, they are deemed “original.”

Accordingly, all of the Rodins in the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collection and Cantor Foundation Collection are original. Most of these artworks were commissioned directly from the Musée Rodin and were cast by its selected foundry, Coubertin. Other authorized posthumous casts can be found in the collections of the world’s most respected museums, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and even Musée Rodin in Paris.

Meditation (With Arms) Bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin

For further information on this subject, please refer to the following sources:

Casting a Rodin Sculpture, from Rodin’s Art, Albert Elsen with Rosalyn Jamison, The Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University with Oxford Press, 2003, pages 30, 31, 34.

Notes on Rodin’s Technique, from Rodin’s Sculpture, A Critical Study of the Spreckels Collection, Jacques de Caso and Patricia Sanders, published by Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1977, pages 29-35.

An Original in Sculpture, by Jean Chatelain, from Rodin Rediscovered, Albert Elsen, editor, published by the National Gallery of Art, 1981, pages 275-282.