Discovering the first cast of The thinker
When the great American Rodin specialist Professor Albert E. Elsen came to examine the Rodin works in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria in 1984, he was very surprised by the version of The thinker (Le Penseur) he encountered (fig. 1). Clearly an early cast of excellent quality, it presented certain unexpected details, most obviously a Florentine cap worn by the man found in no other known example of the work. He therefore expressed his doubts about this bronze to the curators of the collection; the NGV sculpture clearly did not match the standard form of Rodin’s best known work and one of the most famous sculptures in the world. Soon afterwards, however, Professor Elsen changed his mind. The NGV work turned out to be the very first cast of The thinker, executed in 1884 for the Anglo-Greek collector Constantine Alexander Ionides. This unique work has much to tell us about Rodin’s situation when he stood on the cusp of fame in the first half of the 1880s.
Ionides (1833–1900) was born in Manchester to a family of Greek merchants who left Istanbul for the United Kingdom in 1815.1Information about Ionides is from Andrew Watson, ‘Constantine Alexander Ionides: Rodin’s first important English patron’, Sculpture Journal, vol. 16, no. 2, 2007, pp. 23–38. Watson published Ionides’s letters to Rodin (quoted throughout this essay) as an appendix to the article; the letters themselves are in the collection of the Musée Rodin, Paris. His father expanded the family enterprise in London during the 1840s and began to frequent artistic and intellectual milieus. Beginning to trade in his own right, the young Constantine became a member of the London Stock Exchange in 1864. His fortune soon enabled him to begin collecting art, in particular the works of artists such as James McNeill Whistler, Henri Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros, who had formed the Société des Trois in the late 1850s. Ionides became acquainted with many more French artists who fled France in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune. One such refugee was the sculptor Aimé-Jules Dalou, who was convicted of involvement in the Commune and remained in London until 1879, when he was granted amnesty. It was through Dalou and Legros that Ionides became acquainted with Rodin, who had, like the two artists, been a pupil of the Petite École2This state institution for teaching draughtsmanship and other artistic disciplines was founded to train artist-craftsmen and prepare its best students for the competitive entrance exam of the École des Beaux-Arts. in the mid 1850s.
The first certain trace of contact between Rodin and Ionides dates from June 1881, when Ionides went to Paris with his friend Legros and the two men visited both Rodin and Dalou. On his return, Ionides wrote to Rodin detailing the dimensions of a support above his mantelpiece intended for a sculpture.3Ionides, letter to Rodin, 22 June 1881. The sculpture was very probably Kissing babes, 1883 (NGV). During the summer of 1881, Rodin came to London to stay with Legros, who introduced him to certain friends of his. We do not know whether Rodin met Ionides again during this visit; we do know, however, that Rodin met the critic William Ernest Henley, whose portrait he later modelled. Henley proved a very important supporter of Rodin – to such an extent that the sculptor was soon better known in Great Britain than he was in France. As early as 1882, Henley wrote that Rodin was ‘perhaps the greatest of living sculptors’, something that no one in France would have dared suggest at that time.4William Ernest Henley, ‘Art Notes’, Magazine of Art, vol. 5, 1882. See Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, ‘The greatest of living sculptors’, in Catherine Lampert et. al, Rodin, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006. The correspondence between Henley and Rodin is particularly abund-ant and informative since the critic was anxious to keep up-to-date with Rodin’s work and above all with the progress of the The Gates of Hell (fig. 2).
In August 1880, Rodin had been commissioned to design a door for a museum of decorative arts that the French state was planning to create. At that stage the sculptor was relatively unknown, having come to public attention only through the minor scandal aroused when he sought to defend himself against accusations of having cast his sculpture The age of bronze directly from nature; the work had been exhibited in 1877 on his return from Belgium, where he had spent nearly seven years. Rodin felt that this new commission played to his strengths and set to work with enthusiasm, drawing and sculpting numerous groups and figures inspired by the Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece, the Divine Comedy (1472). Over the course of 1881, Rodin worked out the general composition of the commission and its principal elements; these were described in 1883 in Henley’s Magazine of Art as ‘a super-human “Dante”; a lovely and affecting “Paolo and Francesca”; and a terrible “Ugolino”. There is nothing like them in modern sculpture’.5Henley, ‘Current art’, Magazine of Art, vol. 6, 1883. The Dante figure was none other than The thinker, placed in the centre of the tympanum, while Paolo and Francesca (better known as The kiss) and Ugolino and his children at that stage of the composition occupied matching positions at the foot of the door’s two leaves.
Anxious to publish images of the magisterial work in development he was hearing about – ‘Legros showered it with praise’6Henley, letter to Rodin, 24 April 1882, archives of the Musée Rodin, Paris. – Henley requested photographs from Rodin. On 13 November 1883, he wrote to tell the artist:
I showed Ionides the photo of your group, the ‘Paolo and Francesca’. He was so struck by it that he asked me to tell you that he would like to have a bronze proof of it.7Henley, letter to Rodin, 13 Nov. 1883, archives of the Musée Rodin, Paris.
Although fascinated by The kiss, Ionides did not acquire it and no casts were made until several years later.8Contrary to the hypothesis of Watson, pp. 29–30. But in the months that followed, he did commission a cast of The thinker – another work of which no casts yet existed.
In late April 1884, Ionides wrote to Rodin, ‘I’m thinking of placing your thinker on a round table in the reception room where it can be seen from all sides’. This is the very first known mention of the ‘thinker’ title, which did not become official before the end of the 1880s. In December, The thinker was delivered and Ionides immediately paid out the full amount of 4000 French francs (£160),9Ionides, letters to Rodin, 1 & 5 Dec. 1884; see Watson, p. 31. a high price at the time for a Rodin work. Relations between the two men seem to have ended at that point. ‘As was the case with his patronage of other living artists,’ Andrew Watson writes, ‘Ionides appears to have been content to own a select, representative number of pieces’.10See Watson, p. 32; Ionides had already bought a bronze of Rodin’s portrait of Legros, a mask of the Man with a broken nose, before 1881 (Rhode Island School of Design), and two examples of Kissing babes; see note 3.
It seems that this very first cast of The thinker was never publicly exhibited by Ionides, publicised in photographic form or mentioned in the press. It is the earliest cast of the statue by some ten years11Two casts were made in 1896 by Auguste Griffoul; they are currently in the collections of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Genève, Geneva, and the Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo. and is distinctive in two respects: the casting technique and the unexpected cap that the figure wears.
On the matter of technique, a recent examination of the interior of the NGV’s The thinker has shown that it was cast by the lost-wax process. This is interesting because the vast majority of bronzes cast over the course of Rodin’s lifetime were made by sand casting.12Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes by Rodin: Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007. Rodin used a number of founders before 1902, after which he worked mainly with the Alexis Rudier company. This foundry used sand casting only and supplied all the bronzes cast by the Musée Rodin between 1919 and 1952. It was succeeded by the Georges Rudier foundry, which sometimes used the lost-wax method. Starting in the 1970s, the Musée Rodin worked with a number of foundries and increasingly favoured those using modern versions of the lost-wax method: la Fonderie de Coubertin, Susse, Godard and others. The sculptor occasionally experimented with the lost-wax method, and did so notably around 1884 for a number of works including this cast of The thinker.13The two other experimental periods were around 1903–04, when Rodin entrusted A. A. Hébrard with two examples of the large-format The thinker, and in 1912–13, when he worked with the founder Montagutelli. At that time, Rodin had made sufficient progress on The Gates of Hell to consider making a cast of the whole. He wished to do this using the lost-wax method in order to render the detail of his work as accurately as possible while preserving the plaster model.14Rodin, letters to the Ministre de l’Instruction publique et des Beaux-Arts, 25 June & 11 Dec. 1884, Archives nationales, Paris, F21/2109. In this experiment, it seems that Rodin enlisted two founders who specialised in the lost-wax method: Eugène Gonon and Pierre Bingen.15On Gonon and Bingen see Elisabeth Lebon, Dictionnaire des fondeurs de bronze d’art: France 1890–1950, Marjon Editions, Perth, 2003. The two founders each entered a bid for the casting of The Gates of Hell in June and July 1884; a budget of 35,000 francs was allocated in August 1885 (answering to Bingen’s tender), payable in three annual instalments from 1886, but Rodin was unable to deliver the model and set the process rolling. See Albert E. Elsen, The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1985; Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes by Rodin. In the summer of 1883, Rodin had the Ugolino group cast by Gonon for the collector Henri Lerolle,16Sold by Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 19 March 2004, no. 54 (private collection). then, in 1885, the Ixelles Idyll group.17Collection of Musée Rodin, Paris. Bingen, meanwhile, cast the Bust of Antonin Proust in August 1884,18Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge MA. and in 1886 made two magnificent casts of the reduction of the Bust of Victor Hugo.19Collection of Musée Rodin and Musée d’Orsay, Paris. There is no founder’s mark on the Ionides cast of The thinker, but it seems likely to have been made by one of these two founders. However, given that Bingen systematically marked his casts and Eugène Gonon did not, it seems likely to be the work of Gonon.
As to the cap (fig. 3), we should not imagine that Rodin originally placed it on the head of the figure destined for The Gates of Hell, and subsequently removed it. Photographs taken in Rodin’s studio in July 1882 show the work in clay form prior to casting: the head is bare, as it is in subsequent versions. Instead, this detail seems likely to mark either a hesitation on the part of the artist or a demand made by the collector – should there not be some marker, some attribute, by which the spectator might identify this naked man? How was anyone to recognise the figure as Dante, especially when it was removed from the context of the Gates? Rodin was known to say that he had envisaged The thinker to be dressed as Dante is in traditional representations, and a letter from art critic and dealer Léon Gauchez20Gauchez edited the magazine L’Art and long promoted Rodin under his nom de plume Paul Leroi before taking a harsher attitude toward him in the late 1890s. testifies to the fact that this was still a possibility in 1888, the year in which The thinker was first publicly exhibited: ‘a nude Dante is a heresy that deprives you of an admirable antithesis’.21Gauchez, letter to Rodin, 11 May 1888, archives of the Musée Rodin, Paris. It seems likely that in 1884 Rodin still believed the Florentine cap was necessary to suggest that this seated athlete, meditating ‘like a man of action at rest’,22Gustave Geffroy, introduction to the catalogue of the Claude Monet-Auguste Rodin exhibition, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June-Aug. 1889. was indeed an image of Dante. Rodin later changed his mind as the work gradually took on a more universal sense, that of the poet in the etymological sense of ‘creator’ – that is, until it ultimately became The thinker, the seated man thinking in preparation for action. The monumental version of the work completed in 1903 was an immediate and considerable success, but makes no reference to Dante. The impression of power that it gives is still greater than that of the original model; the large The thinker is a worker, a man of the people about to rise and act.
On the death of Ionides in 1900, his very beautiful collection of paintings was left to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and his sculptures to his daughter Helen. The thinker and Kissing babes, 1883, were bought from her by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1921, thanks to the Felton Bequest, on the occasion of a European tour undertaken by the Gallery’s agent Frank Rinder. It is important to note that the provenance and early date of this cast were already known. In the cable addressed to the Chairman of the Felton Bequest Committee, Rinder described the scuplture:
[Among] three highly desirable bronzes direct from famed collection Constantine Ionides benefactor South Kensington … [is an] early version 1884 celebrated Penseur … stated to be the earliest version of the world-famed figure.23Frank Rinder, cable to E. La Touche Armstrong, 9 May 1921, Felton Correspondence, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne. The third bronze, a mask of Man with a broken nose, was not acquired. – FB
An account of conserving The thinker
Some objects Conservators encounter present more than technical preservation problems. Auguste Rodin’s The thinker (Le Penseur), 1884 (fig. 4), has seemingly transcended its material form to become an idea permeating popular culture. Such is its power that today we are likely to encounter it in advertising, often in some arbitrary and disconnected form. It is a sculpture that has become recognised at an intergenerational and international level as a symbol of art and of the human mind. Meeting the material needs of a work that has evoked this level of public engagement is a rare task, even for experienced conservators. My intention here is to give a brief account of the work undertaken to conserve this sculpture.
Visitors queue in international art galleries to access great art treasures. At the NGV, one of these treasures has sat hidden in plain sight. Few people realise that the version of The thinker on display at the Gallery is in fact the first casting of the work, integral to Rodin’s fame and career. A larger version of the sculpture marks Rodin’s grave as a lasting symbol of his work, but our version is the original. It was described to me some months ago by a Dutch museum director as ‘one of the world’s most recognisable, important and valuable artworks’. Why the sculpture has long been assumed to be ‘just another one of those Thinkers’ is important to this story.
The Gallery’s The thinker is one of dozens of plaster and bronze casts made during and after Rodin’s life. The fact that it was the first cast has occasionally been reported in literature. Frank Rinder, the Felton Advisor who recommended buying it for the NGV in 1921, wrote, ‘The Penseur is stated to be the earliest version of the world-famed figure’.24ibid. The sculpture is largely absent from textbooks and glossy art publications from the past hundred years. Following its export to Australia, the recognisability and symbolism of the sculptural form continued to grow under its own momentum. Meanwhile, the location of the original was largely forgotten by the world. It is only in recent times that the work has begun to be shown internationally and its importance become known to more than a handful of scholars.
After its acquisition in 1921, when it was still (almost) contemporary art, the sculpture was moved around the NGV’s display and storage locations. This was at a time when modern museum practices were still in their infancy. Areas where patina had been polished bare by the touch of passing visitors were recoloured using mismatched paint, and over the decades the work accumulated several coatings, including what appears to be black paint, varnish, boot polish and more modern ‘museum wax’. This black and ill-defined sculpture was not much to look at during recent decades. Only when the sculpture came to be requested for an exhibition exclusively devoted to the subject of Rodin’s The thinker at the Singer Laren Museum, the Netherlands, did the sculpture come to the top of the conservation treatment schedule. With a firm opinion that we could do better with the aesthetics of this sculpture before it was displayed to an international audience, a conservation program began.
In a collection with the depth of the NGV’s it is common for important works to remain unscheduled for comprehensive conservation for many years. One of the great advantages of the NGV collection is that it has escaped the well-meaning restorations and interventions experienced by many European collections, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. The transition from a restoration tradition to a university-trained materials conservation profession has only occurred in the past thirty-five years in Australia. Thankfully, our The thinker escaped earlier attempts to ‘restore’ it. Internationally there are a number of dark patinated, almost black versions that have been restored by stripping and re-patination after outdoor exposure. A sculpture’s patina is only original once, and continues to improve as a well-cared-for sculpture ages. Replacing a patina is sometimes necessary; however, trying to recreate an earlier appearance is difficult, and conservators are now trained to preserve original material whenever possible.
Using a modern digital microscope and infra-red spectroscopy equipment at the NGV labs, I was able to establish the presence of a number of chemically different organic coatings on the surface of our sculpture. These layers were obscuring surface detail; evidently Rodin’s surface had not been visible for many decades. The colour of this type of sculpture is the result of a chemical reaction between heated bronze and a highly reactive chemical. (Creating a good patina is a craft skill built on experience and trade secrets.) This reaction produces a surface which is a thin inorganic chemical corrosion product and generates the rich depth of colour unique to quality bronze sculpture. The colour usually matures and develops as a sculpture ages and responds to its environment. The skilled work of master patinators was highly regarded in France at the time of the sculpture’s creation, and Rodin is reported to have been very particular about the patination of his work. Early examination of the sculpture’s surface revealed the tantalising possibility of an intact original patina. This was a critical discovery, as a genuine chemical patina does not dissolve in solvent, whereas the upper organic coatings should, theoretically, be soluble and removable (fig. 5).
This can be a difficult moment for a conservator. Identifying the possibility of recovering an original surface, and returning a maker’s intent to an object, is a core objective of many treatments. Often it has been decades or longer since a work of art looked the way its maker intended. Deciding how to move forward involves assessing the risks (Will I cause more damage than benefit?), managing expectations of how a familiar item may look and respond to conservation, and being certain to retain the evidence of time on a work’s appearance. Works of art are only ‘original’ at the point of creation. From then on they change under the passage of time, and processes of physics and chemistry, to reflect the environments they have inhabited. Conservators do not seek to create an illusion of a new object based on the remnants of an original, we seek to preserve and present in a legible manner what has been passed down to us. Sometimes the effects of time are very important to how we look at objects. Complex interventive treatments are not taken lightly. Unless our examination and testing of an object reveals a treatment pathway, our training advises us not to act. This is made more difficult by often unpredictable public reaction to the ‘new’ appearance of a restored work of art, even where this is the result of careful evidence-based research.
At the same time, concern about the risks of treating high value objects is growing. There is an increasing tendency towards not intervening, even when sound options are available, and the skills to undertake this high-return work are consequently diminishing in our profession. The ability to treat an object is a critical part of being a conservator and is a skill which takes time to develop in a supportive professional environment. Undertaking the conservation of a well-known work of art may potentially change public perceptions of it permanently. While the work of conservators is based on evidence and careful discussion with curators, scholars and scientists, it also carries a very direct responsibility – the conservator is ultimately the person who will be using the scalpel or applying the cleaning chemical, and the decisions they make second by second, based on judgement and experience, can have significant impacts. Despite its technical and planned nature, the physical act of conservation treatment is also a highly focused individual process in which personal abilities are put to the test. It demands intense concentration and delicate hand–eye coordination, involving subtle changes in technique in response to the surface of a particular work that are not fully apparent to onlookers. If a conservator has done their job well, most people will never notice he or she was there. If a treatment is unsuccessful, however, it is not easily forgotten.
The thinker did not easily give up its history of being misunderstood, rather it gradually revealed a story. Over four weeks, solvents, poultices and chemical mixtures were tested to determine a method of cleaning the sculpture. This confirmed a history of coatings, the most tenacious of which was a black pigmented layer directly on the surface of the patina, which was resistant to all but the most aggressive (and toxic) solvents. The test patches revealed tiny windows into the sculpture’s history. Beneath the black layer it became clear that there were thousands of tiny white paint spots (fig. 7). The earliest known photograph of our sculpture pictures it high on the wall of a domed white library ceiling, in the collection of Constantine Ionides (fig. 6), where paint may have fallen out.25Anonymous photograph of Constantine Ionides’s gallery, undated (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).
The small lead white (a long disused pigment) paint spots were directly on top of the patina. Based on this we concluded that the patina was almost certainly the original – no evidence exists of a previous restoration and the Gallery has owned the work for the majority of its history. These thousands of white paint spots were very well adhered to the surface of the sculpture as a result of a chemical reaction on the metal caused by the slightly acidic paint binder. It is easy to imagine the hasty decision to apply a dark painted coating to the sculpture, perhaps to improve its appearance at point of sale to the NGV, to give it a dark appearance consistent with later Rodin work. This decision made many years ago had the unintended effect of preserving what we believe to be the original patination approved by Rodin, capturing the original appearance he intended for it.
In cleaning the sculpture I turned to a new, but extensively tested, technique of dry-ice cleaning. This technology has been used for decades in cleaning military aircraft and other highly specialised technological applications where cleaning without damaging a surface is required. Conserving our most valued works of art often involves turning to advanced technologies from other fields supported by multimillion-dollar research and development programs. Working with international colleagues at the British Museum, London, and Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, a method was adopted for use on our sculpture. The overwhelming advantage of this technology is that dry ice freezes and fractures the coating from the surface, leaving no chemical residue, not changing the underlying bronze or patina and, as an added advantage, not poisoning the conservator. Months of preparation culminated in an actual cleaning process that took two days.
The transformation was faster than any I have ever observed. Rarely do conservators witness such a rapid revelation of what lies beneath aged coatings. The underlying sculpture was remarkable, even in its dull and un-waxed state. Detail and shadow used to highlight muscles and form – the product of very careful patination – came to life. On close inspection it was possible to see hints of fingerprints and cloth weave captured in the surface of the clay model precursor, as well as cold working marks used to alter the cast’s surface (fig. 8). These features, obscured for longer than living memory, have been preserved because this cast, uniquely in The thinker series, was made using a lost-wax process and high zinc alloy, allowing better molten metal flow and capturing far greater surface detail than any of the later sand casts.
This was not the only time that our The thinker was exposed to modern technology. During its loan to the Netherlands an advanced form of three-dimensional computer mapping technology was applied to the sculpture, enabling its exact proportions to be captured. A digital three-dimensional copy now exists that allows the digital overlay of several versions of The thinker (fig. 9). Scholars are currently studying transitions in the form of the work. In this research our The thinker has become a digital reference point to which all others can be compared, without risking damage to the sculpture.
The NGV’s The thinker is also at the forefront of advances in understanding the composition of French bronze sculpture. I took a microscopic sample from the work to the Australian Synchrotron, the nation’s most sophisticated scientific instrument, for study. There, the new technology of high-resolution X-ray fluorescence mapping was undertaken with beamline scientist Daryl Howard. This revealed in unprecedented detail the distribution and elemental composition of the bronze and, perhaps most exciting of all, the thin patina, possibly only a few hundred atoms thick. A synchrotron high-resolution elemental mapping technique had never been used for this type of application before (there are only a handful of synchrotrons worldwide dedicated to advanced scientific study), and it revealed tantalising new evidence of the chemistry of the patina. Technical lessons learned and published from conserving this sculpture will influence how other important works are understood and treated. The synchrotron experiment will guide conservation efforts on other works in the future and may finally allow the patination ‘recipe’ used on early Rodin sculptures to be rediscovered.
Time has taken its toll on Rodin’s original The thinker. Countless hands of the visiting public have touched the sculpture, leaving its hand and knee polished and its patina missing. The chemical reaction caused by the thousands of white paint spots also removed a tiny spot of patina. For many weeks I individually colour matched pigments to fill the missing spots of patina (fig. 10). On the hands and knee I integrated what was left of the patina to give a coherent surface, but one that does not hide the damage caused in these areas to anyone studying the work closely.
Very few people are able to study a sculpture at this level and develop an awareness of how a clay model was formed, pushed and purposefully detailed to create the form we know in bronze. It is a type of understanding that can only be achieved by spending many hundreds of hours focusing on detail. Often, after sitting with an object for weeks, studying it at a microscopic level, a picture emerges of how its maker was using the materials and tools at their disposal to express a form and an idea. Conservators are privileged to develop an insight into the thinking and processes behind works of art, arrived at after prolonged close study. If objects are the material evidence of the minds which created them, then conservation practice provides a possibly unique method of reading the raw source material and forming an understanding of the maker. This is one of the great rewards of the profession.
Following many, many hours of recolouring areas of lost patina I was ready to commence the final step of re-waxing the sculpture and reinstating the luminous surface bronze it is famous for. When recolouring surface flaws it is not the immediate colour which is important, but rather the colour that will be achieved when the surface is saturated. For the correct result after waxing, the colour has to be slightly ‘wrong’ beforehand. Get it too wrong, however, and there is no option but to start over. Conservators work in a way which is as reversible as possible. Often months of work could literally be wiped away in moments, returning to the damaged surface.
In this case the success or failure of the work would only be revealed when the sculpture was waxed. Thankfully the sculpture’s waxed surface largely obscured my restoration work and revealed a surprising range of tones and forms (fig. 11). Light is reflected by the work’s smooth surfaces and diffused by its texture to achieve a subtle and lively surface. The thinker’s complex and articulate surface was unprecedented and revealed the great importance of this sculpture. It is indeed ‘one of the world’s most recognisable, important and valuable artworks’. As a result of the treatment, NGV visitors are now able to rediscover a work they may have walked past a dozen times before, a work that demonstrates just how surprising the permanent collection continues to be. – DT
François Blanchetière, Deputy to the Collections Manager, Musée Rodin, Paris (in 2013).
David Thurrowgood, Senior Conservator, Metals and Conservation Science, NGV (in 2013).
1 Information about Ionides is from Andrew Watson, ‘Constantine Alexander Ionides: Rodin’s first important English patron’, Sculpture Journal, vol. 16, no. 2, 2007, pp. 23–38. Watson published Ionides’s letters to Rodin (quoted throughout this essay) as an appendix to the article; the letters themselves are in the collection of the Musée Rodin, Paris.
2 This state institution for teaching draughtsmanship and other artistic disciplines was founded to train artist-craftsmen and prepare its best students for the competitive entrance exam of the École des Beaux-Arts.
3 Ionides, letter to Rodin, 22 June 1881. The sculpture was very probably Kissing babes, 1883 (NGV).
4 William Ernest Henley, ‘Art Notes’, Magazine of Art, vol. 5, 1882. See Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, ‘The greatest of living sculptors’, in Catherine Lampert et. al, Rodin, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006.
5 Henley, ‘Current art’, Magazine of Art, vol. 6, 1883.
6 Henley, letter to Rodin, 24 April 1882, archives of the Musée Rodin, Paris.
7 Henley, letter to Rodin, 13 Nov. 1883, archives of the Musée Rodin, Paris.
8 Contrary to the hypothesis of Watson, pp. 29–30.
9 Ionides, letters to Rodin, 1 & 5 Dec. 1884; see Watson, p. 31.
10 See Watson, p. 32; Ionides had already bought a bronze of Rodin’s portrait of Legros, a mask of the Man with a broken nose, before 1881 (Rhode Island School of Design), and two examples of Kissing babes; see note 3.
11 Two casts were made in 1896 by Auguste Griffoul; they are currently in the collections of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Genève, Geneva, and the Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo.
12 Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes by Rodin: Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007. Rodin used a number of founders before 1902, after which he worked mainly with the Alexis Rudier company. This foundry used sand casting only and supplied all the bronzes cast by the Musée Rodin between 1919 and 1952. It was succeeded by the Georges Rudier foundry, which sometimes used the lost-wax method. Starting in the 1970s, the Musée Rodin worked with a number of foundries and increasingly favoured those using modern versions of the lost-wax method: la Fonderie de Coubertin, Susse, Godard and others.
13 The two other experimental periods were around 1903–04, when Rodin entrusted A. A. Hébrard with two examples of the large-format The thinker, and in 1912–13, when he worked with the founder Montagutelli.
14 Rodin, letters to the Ministre de l’Instruction publique et des Beaux-Arts, 25 June & 11 Dec. 1884, Archives nationales, Paris, F21/2109.
15 On Gonon and Bingen see Elisabeth Lebon, Dictionnaire des fondeurs de bronze d’art: France 1890–1950, Marjon Editions, Perth, 2003. The two founders each entered a bid for the casting of The Gates of Hell in June and July 1884; a budget of 35,000 francs was allocated in August 1885 (answering to Bingen’s tender), payable in three annual instalments from 1886, but Rodin was unable to deliver the model and set the process rolling. See Albert E. Elsen, The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1985; Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes by Rodin.
16 Sold by Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 19 March 2004, no. 54 (private collection).
17 Collection of Musée Rodin, Paris.
18 Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge MA.
19 Collection of Musée Rodin and Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
20 Gauchez edited the magazine L’Art and long promoted Rodin under his nom de plume Paul Leroi before taking a harsher attitude toward him in the late 1890s.
21 Gauchez, letter to Rodin, 11 May 1888, archives of the Musée Rodin, Paris.
22 Gustave Geffroy, introduction to the catalogue of the Claude Monet-Auguste Rodin exhibition, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June-Aug. 1889.
23 Frank Rinder, cable to E. La Touche Armstrong, 9 May 1921, Felton Correspondence, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne. The third bronze, a mask of Man with a broken nose, was not acquired.
25 Anonymous photograph of Constantine Ionides’s gallery, undated (Victoria and Albert Museum, London).