AUGUSTE RODIN (1840-1917) L'un des Bourgeois de Calais: Étude de nu monumentale pour Pierre de Wissant 196.5cm (77 3/8in). high (Conceived in 1886, this bronze version cast in April 1972 by the Georges Rudier Foundry in an edition of 11.)

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Lot 26* W TP
AUGUSTE RODIN
(1840-1917)
L'un des Bourgeois de Calais: Étude de nu monumentale pour Pierre de Wissant

Sold for £ 675,062 (US$ 837,766) inc. premium
THE COLLECTION OF SIR WARWICK & LADY FAIRFAX
AUGUSTE RODIN (1840-1917)
L'un des Bourgeois de Calais: Étude de nu monumentale pour Pierre de Wissant
signed 'A. Rodin' (on the base), inscribed and dated '© by musée Rodin 1972' (to the right of the base), inscribed with the foundry mark 'Georges Rudier Fondeur Paris' (to the verso) and stamped with the raised signature 'A. Rodin' (on the inside of the base)
bronze with grey-black patina with green accents
196.5cm (77 3/8in). high
Conceived in 1886, this bronze version cast in April 1972 by the Georges Rudier Foundry in an edition of 11.

Footnotes

  • This work will be included in the forthcoming Auguste Rodin catalogue critique de l'oeuvre sculpté currently being prepared by the Comité Auguste Rodin at Galerie Brame & Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay.

    Provenance
    Musée Rodin, Paris.
    David Jones' Art Gallery, Sydney (acquired from the above in May - July 1974).
    Sir Warwick & Lady Fairfax Collection, Sydney (acquired from the above in July 1974).
    Thence by descent to the present owners.

    Exhibited
    Sydney, David Jones' Art Gallery, Auguste Rodin 1840 - 1917, The Burghers of Calais, 5 - 30 March 1974, no. 11.

    Literature
    B. Champigneulle, Rodin, London, 1967 (smaller version illustrated pl. 28).
    A. Bowness, Rodin: Sculpture and Drawings, exh. cat., London, 1970 (another cast illustrated p. 54).
    M. J. NcNamara & A. E. Elsen, Rodin's Burghers of Calais, Rodin's Sculptural Studies for the Monument to the Burghers of Calais from the Collection of the Cantor, Fitzgerald Group, 1977 (plaster version illustrated p. 37 and a detail of another cast illustrated p. 38).
    C. Judrin, M. Laurent & D. Viéville, Auguste Rodin, Le monument des Bourgeois de Calais (1884 - 1895) dans les collections du musée Rodin et du musée des Beaux-Arts de Calais, exh. cat., Paris, 1977 (another cast illustrated p. 191 & clay version illustrated p. 249).
    A. E. Elsen, In Rodin's Studio, A Photographic Record of Sculpture in the Making, Oxford, 1980 (clay version illustrated pls. 55 - 56).
    G. Bresc-Bautier & A. Pingeot, Sculptures des jardins du Louvre, du Carrousel et des Tuileries (II), Paris, 1986 (another cast illustrated p. 397).
    L. Ambrosini & M. Facos, Rodin, The Cantor Gift to The Brooklyn Museum, New York, 1987 (another cast illustrated p. 113).
    I. Ross & A. Snow in association with the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, Rodin, A Magnificent Obsession, London & New York, 2001 (clay version illustrated p. 56).
    A. Le Normand-Romain, Rodin e l'Italia, exh. cat., Rome, 2001 (clay version illustrated p. 73).
    A. E. Elsen, Rodin's Art, The Rodin Collection of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, New York, 2003 (clay version illustrated p. 75 and another cast illustrated p. 66).
    A. Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, Vol. I, Paris, 2007, no. S. 626 (plaster version illustrated p. 50, clay version illustrated p. 210 & another cast illustrated p. 235).

    With nooses slung around their necks and draped in coarse sackcloth tunics, six men hesitantly step outside the city gates. The first man to step forward towards the enemy encampment is also the oldest, his doleful eyes and thick beard interrupted by jutting cheekbones which betray the eleven months of starvation endured by him and every other citizen of this besieged, desperate city. Just behind him, his face set with grim resolve, a second man embarks upon the agonising march. His trudge is laboured, slowed by privation and the enormous key of the castle and city gates which visibly strains his sinuous forearms. Two brothers follow in this man's wake, one physically recoiling from the enormity of the task – head turned from the direction of his fate, his hand shielding the anguished expression. He appears to be at the point of retreat. Immense sorrow and inner conflict contort his very being. The final figure to join this sombre grouping is a young man. At the point of departure, he looks back, but his expression is one of bewilderment, perhaps even acceptance, and with arms outstretched, palms opened heavenward, he adopts a Christ-like persona.

    Despite the lowly bearing of these men, presented as convicts being led to execution, they are in fact noblemen and leaders of this city. The scene represents the moment at which they prepare to sacrifice themselves to the English to secure the liberation of Calais in 1347, and was later immortalised by Auguste Rodin in 1895, becoming one of the greatest and most enduring public monuments ever realised.

    Bringing together a variety of states from three of the six martyrs - Pierre de Wissant, Jean d'Aire and Jean de Fiennes - Sir Warwick and Lady Fairfax's group of bronzes associated with the Bourgeois de Calais monument constitutes a major collection from one of Rodin's most important and celebrated commissions.

    Auguste Rodin was first approached by the Mayor of Calais to make a commemorative monument to this historical event in 1884. He was immediately fired by enthusiasm for the project and set about immersing himself in the Fourteenth Century Chronicles of Jean Froissart, a history book well-known in France and England which outlined the event in detail. The original commission was conceived by the city to be a single dedication to the leader of the Burghers, Eustache de Saint Pierre, however, following his research, Rodin became convinced that the monument should memorialize all six citizens and that their individual heroism would emphasise the expressive and empathetic power of the monument as a whole. Writing to the Mayor, Omer Dewavrin, after producing the first clay maquette of grouping, Rodin enthused that 'The idea seems to me completely original from the point of view of architecture and sculpture. Nevertheless, it is the subject itself that is important and that imposes a heroic conception. The general effect of six figures sacrificing themselves is expressive and moving...Rarely I have succeeded in doing a sketch with so much élan and sobriety' (Rodin quoted in A. E. Elsen, Rodin's Art, The Rodin Collection of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, New York, 2003, p. 69).

    Once Rodin had been granted the commission he set about developing the particularities of each figure and, most importantly, their personal and psychological reactions to their impending death. It was crucial to Rodin that his protagonists should not conform to stock imagery or allegory, but rather that they should achieve an individuality and a raw humanity which would chime with each spectator's lived experience.

    In accordance with Jacques-Louis David and the nineteenth century academic tradition, Rodin insisted on completing his figures in the nude before draping them. As was his custom, he allowed the models to roam the studio so that he could be inspired by natural and involuntary gestures, however for this commission, he decided not to work with dancers or gymnasts, but to turn to ordinary civilians renowned for their strength of character, and with bodies hardened by physical labour or combat. In a letter to Dewavrin in 1885 Rodin outlined the importance that he attached to the fabrication of the nudes:

    'It [the maquette] is made to be executed on a large scale, so there are negligences of details that should not be the cause of astonishment, since in general all the draperies will be reworked on a large scale; the modelling of the folds varies, as the mannequin on which one experiments with the drapery does not give the same result twice running. The nudes, that is to say the part underneath, are complete, and I am going to have them executed definitively so as not to waste any time. You see it is the part one does not see, which is nonetheless the most important, that is finished' (J. L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, p. 383).

    Pierre de Wissant, nu monumentale is the most expressive and arguably the most successful of all the nude subjects. Rodin understood that by perfecting the frame underneath drapery, he could more effectively convey the psychological state of his character. Cleverly employing the contrapposto technique developed by Greek antiquity, in which the weight of the figure is carried on one foot, Rodin imbues the figure with a sense of dynamism. And, by shifting the skeletal plane so that the shoulders twist off-axis with the hips – describing the body at the point of turning back - he conveys the mental vacillations of Pierre de Wissant himself, as he battles to honour his task and to overcome his fear of death. As Rodin explained, 'they are still wondering if they will have the strength to make the supreme sacrifice...Their hearts urge them forward and their feet refuse to walk. They drag themselves along with difficulty, due as much to the weakness to which famine has reduced them as to their dread of their execution' (Rodin quoted in A. Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, Vol. I, Paris, 2007, p. 213).

    In the process of constructing the nudes Rodin would often draw physical elements from differing models and synthesise them into one coherent figure. This technique enabled the artist to exaggerate, even enlarge, certain expressions or proportions so that they would draw the eye of the spectator and be visible from greater distances. Defending the artist's right to present his work according to his own vision, Rodin expanded that 'The artist...must choose and must proportion his detail to the distance at which his work ought to be regarded, and he is entitled to ask that his work shall be regarded with the perspective that he himself has chosen' (Rodin quoted in A. E. Elsen, op. cit., p. 110). In the case of Pierre de Wissant, attention is focused on the dramatic gesture of the right arm raised to shield the grief-stricken face. The arm and hand appear oversized in relation to rest of the figure, but it is through this subtle distortion that Rodin brings emphasis to the gesture and heightens its emotional impact.

    Rodin enlarged the nude figures to monumental size soon after conception. In contrast to the aggrandizement of certain gestures, this overall enlargement enabled Rodin to amplify the emotive possibilities of human flesh by bringing into sharper focus smaller details, such as the strained tendons of the neck and swollen veins of the rigid hands, which further reveal the inner anguish of the protagonist. In a photograph by Charles Bodmer from 1886, which shows the clay version of Pierre de Wissant, nu monumentale in Rodin's studio on boulevard de Vaugiraud, we can appreciate the extent of the detail applied to the figure and its uncanny resemblance to a living man. On seeing the life-size clay forms of the hostages of Calais, the French writer, Edmond de Goncourt, recalled that they were 'modelled with a powerfully charged realism' and that they possessed 'the beautiful holes in the human flesh that [Antoine-Louis] Barye put in the flanks of animals' (A. E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, p. 81).

    As Roger Fry observed with regards to the Bourgeois de Calais, it was the myriad of manipulations instinctively wrought in the clay which gave 'the vibration of life to a surface [and] transmuted dead matter into the medium of spirit' (A. E. Elsen, Rodin's Art, The Rodin Collection of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, New York, 2003, p. 109). Indeed, it is testament to Rodin's virtuosity that even during the fabrication of the clay and plaster versions, he already anticipated the translation of his work into bronze and the significance that these 'holes' would have in animating his figures. Rodin had a keen sensibility for the interplay of light and shadow and understood it to be the life force of his sculptures: 'To model shadows is to create thoughts' (Rodin quoted in A. E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, p. 83). This vitalising effect is supremely realised in the Tête colossale de Pierre de Wissant which was first cast in bronze during the artist's life time.

    Rodin had a profound interest in the head of Pierre de Wissant and completed a number of studies of varying size. Incongruously, the model for the tragic head is likely to have been a comedian from the Comédie-Franҫaise, Coquelin Cadet, and it is of no surprise that a professional performer was used to hold the expression for the hours of modelling required. The colossal head, nearly a metre in height, allowed Rodin to fully experiment with the expressive potential of the entire face and to imbue areas, normally considered to be emotionally neutral, with feeling. The forehead for example is rippled with depressions and ridges and is most successfully realised in the reflective bronze medium to describe the furrowed brow of the subject, knitted with anxiety and pain. In the same way, the cavity of the mouth is augmented by the sharp contour of the concave upper lip – a non-naturalistic device which only comes to life through the casting of shadow.

    The only other face to benefit from a limited edition during the Rodin's lifetime was that of Jean d'Aire. Eyes cast downward, chin jutting forwards, mouth clenched – this visage is etched with defiance and resolution, presenting an altogether opposing impression to that of the desperate Pierre de Wissant. In keeping with his practice of repeating figurative parts such as heads and hands within the composition, Rodin used the same face for two of the other martyrs, Jacques de Wissant and Andrieu d'Andres. The head of Jean d'Aire however is the only one to remain completely unobscured within the composition, and so remains one of the most iconic profiles of the Burghers.

    By eschewing the traditional bust format and presenting the head as fragment for both Tête colossale de Pierre de Wissant and Tête de Jean d'Aire, moyen modèle, Rodin intended to show the part as expressive of the whole. This belief was possibly inspired by fragments of late medieval sculpture in the Louvre depicting Christ as the Man of Sorrows, an association which is further emphasised by the placing of Tête colossale de Pierre de Wissant on a column-like base to impose a tragic tilt of the head and an undeniable sense of pathos. Here, Rodin needs no halo or crown of thorns to express the connection between the self-sacrifice of Christ and that made by the Burghers of Calais.

    In the Bourgeois de Calais Rodin succeeds in enacting a radical subversion of the traditional heroic monument. Rather than presenting a triumphal and victorious scene, it is through the human frailty of the Burghers that Rodin inspires empathy and virtuous imitation within his spectators. Despite the initial objections of the commissioning committee - 'this is not the way we envisaged our glorious citizens going to the camp of the King of England. Their defeated postures offend our religion' (J. L. Tancock, op. cit., p. 383) - Rodin relentlessly followed his vision and, by underscoring the individuality of the figures, he touched the very essence of humanity to ensure the monument's universal and timeless appeal:

    'I have not shown them grouped in a triumphant apotheosis; such a glorification of their heroism would not have corresponded to reality. On the contrary, I have, as it were, threaded them one behind the other, because in the indecision of the last inner combat which ensues, between their devotion to their cause and their fear of dying, it is as if each of them has to face their conscience alone' (Rodin quoted in A. Le Normand-Romain, op. cit., p. 213).
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