A long-lost marble bust by Auguste Rodin depicting Napoleon Bonaparte, has turned up in a municipal building in Madison, New Jersey. The major work by the French sculptor was last seen in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in the 1920s.
The masterpiece dating from 1908 had been sitting on a plinth in a committee room gathering dust for the past 85 years. Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, The daughter of William D. Rockefeller, donated the work along with the building erected in 1935. It was named after her son, who had died in a car accident.
Recent research done by the foundation uncovered that Mrs Rockefeller Dodge a serious art collector had acquired Rodin’s bust at auction from the family of Thomas Fortune Ryan, a tobacco magnate, who had loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from 1915 to 1929.
The 700 pound work of art has been authenticated by a Rodin expert, the work will now go on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art later this month in time for the centenary of the artist’s death.
The work came to light by an inquisitive 22-year-old graduate student. Mallory Mortillaro, said “She was running her finger along the base and felt a chiseled mark, got a flashlight, got on a chair and peered over, and there was the signature of A. Rodin.”
The noted Rodin specialist Jérôme Le Blay, formerly of the Musée Rodin and the founder of the Comité Rodin, was then contacted. A photograph from 1910 shows the sculptor posing next to the bust, titled Napoleon enveloppé dans ses réves – Napoleon wrapped in his dreams.
Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) is often seen as the rebellious forefather of modern sculpture, but in fact he raised no conscious revolt against the sculpture of his day. Rodin struggled for academic recognition but never managed to pass the entrance examination to the Academy of Arts in Paris.
Instead he was self-taught and developed a unique method for the modelling of complex forms in clay and plaster. Many of his most famous works were criticised in his lifetime. They broke with a tradition of idealised, decorative sculpture with little room to manoeuvre in how mythological or literary subjects could be presented. Rodin’s distinguishing characteristic is a realistic but expressive modelling of the body together with a great sense of the symbolic content of the motif. Slowly he attained popularity and achieved his decisive breakthrough at the World Exposition in Paris in 1900.
The Rodin bust of Napoleon Bonaparte is estimated to be valued at between $4m to $12m