Rodin, the progenitor of modern sculpture, is an artist who requires no introduction, and on February 28 collectors will have a rare opportunity to acquire one of the master’s most famous artworks – the male nude L’Age d’Airain (The Age of Bronze), which will be auctioned in Bonhams’ impressionist and modern art sale in London, in a version cast between 1935 and 1945 by the Alexis Rudier Foundry in Paris. The piece, which is one of a number of works by the artist included in the sale, is estimated at £100,000 to £150,000.
On its first appearance in the 1870s, this particular bronze was deemed so extraordinarily realistic that many critics asserted Rodin had simply made a cast of his model. Their aim may well have been to damage the artist, but instead the resulting furore elevated his profile – and led directly to the commission of La Porte de l’Enfer (The Gates of Hell), one of his most important works depicting a scene from Inferno, the first section of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
“L’Age d’Airain is one of Rodin’s seminal works, and I would be as bold as to say it is one of the defining moments in sculpture,” says India Phillips, Bonhams’ global head of impressionist and modern art. “The work strove to capture an existential moment of inner struggle – the self-conscious awakening of man. It was ambitious in every respect, and as is often the case with works that are surrounded by notoriety, it very quickly became one of Rodin’s most sought-after motifs. Even during his lifetime, the reductions of this subject were extremely popular with collectors, and it is a testament to Rodin’s perennial desirability that the market for these works continues to be as strong as it is.”
But this is not the only Rodin in the auction. Collectors can also own Faunesse à Genoux (Kneeling Faun), an early study for a figure in La Porte de l’Enfer, which is unusual in that the faun is emphatically female in form rather than half goat. It is estimated at £100,000 to £150,000. There are also a number of examples of the artist’s skill as a draughtsman: Mère et Enfant is one of several of Rodin’s studies of mothers with children from the 1880s. It was a gift from the artist to a friend, the poet William Ernest Henley, and is estimated at £40,000 to £60,000. There is also Danseur Courbé vers la Droite, an artwork in pen, brush and ink on yellow paper, estimated at £10,000 to £15,000, and most interestingly, the watercolour and pencil Le Baiser des Femmes – modelled on Rodin’s famous sculpture Le Baiser, or The Kiss. It is estimated at £6,000 to £8,000.