Auguste Rodin - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Thursday, November 18, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Auguste Rodin, beyond his brilliant, iconic works rendered in stark realism, is known for revitalizing the language of sculpture itself a legacy greater than that of the artist or his creations alone. In abandoning the antecedent Renaissance style of decorative, idealized, and heavily thematic sculptures glorifying grace, beauty, strength, and nobility, Rodin injected his figures with humanity—that of raw emotion and physicality—thus propelling sculpture into the modern. Despite culling his figures from mythological and allegorical subject matters, Rodin depicts in his figures a profound, sometimes unsettling understanding of the human state. Rodin’s Les Trois Ombres, one of his most iconic forms, renders the psychological expressiveness and formal realness key to Rodin’s monumental contributions to modern and contemporary sculpture.



    Trois ombres depicts three identical male figures radiating from a single point where their left arms converge. Originating as three separate casts, the repeated figure likely evolved from an early study of Adam, which drew from Michelangelo’s Study for a Pietà in its bodily composition and hyper-defined flesh. Yet Trois ombres departs from Adam in key ways: the right leg is lifted ever more gently; the left arm is thrust frontward instead of across the torso; and the slope of the neck is exaggerated so to become practically horizontal. Regardless, evident in Trois ombres is Rodin’s great mastery of the Baroque dramatic rendering of the male figure, with wide set shoulders, the right leg bent, a contorted torso, and thrusted left arm. The present work is an enlarged version of the three identical casts crowning the lintel of The Gates of Hell, looming above the scenes from Dante’s Inferno, which Rodin famously worked on from 1880 to 1917 as a commission for a new decorative arts museum in Paris. 


    In Inferno, the shades (or souls of the damned) stand at the entrance to Hell, pointing to the disconsolate inscription: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Dante wrote, “They all three made of themselves a wheel.” Thus, Rodin’s figures represented three recently dead souls, looking down in terror at the tormented melee into which they were about to be thrown. As Rodin continued to work with the Shade figure, the sculpture evolved into its simplified, present form. As Antoinette Le Normand-Romain nimbly writes, “having found its permanent position at an early stage, The Shades group seems fundamental to the evolution of Rodin’s oeuvre. The brutal amputation of the hands, which probably occurred at the same time as the inscription disappeared, was the first manifestation of Rodin’s search for formal simplification—something that became a characteristic feature of his work.”
    "[Les Trois Ombres] seems fundamental to the evolution of Rodin’s oeuvre… [It] was the first manifestation of Rodin’s search for formal simplification—something that became a characteristic feature of his work."
    —Antoinette Le Norman-Romain

    Even with the inscription absent and the figures removed from The Gates of Hell, Trois ombres take on the despair of Dante’s harrowing phrase incarnate. The work’s remarkability lies in its ability to evoke the appearance of three different men who attempt to find solace in the other—leaning in towards the another, their heads bent over in irrevocable sorrow, their arms reaching out for touch—all the while being the same figure. Perhaps that is where the power of Trois ombres lies: not in rendering the Shades as they were written, as three different souls, but in allowing the viewer to experience the whole pose at once, and in turn, experience the entirety of the figure’s despair. In such a way, the work’s raison d’être could be divorced from its original circumstance in The Gates of Hell entirely. With this tripartite-imitation, Rodin stresses the aesthetic power of the figures alone. It is their evocative body positions, woeful expressions, and imagined bond that achieves Rodin’s incomparable portrayal of the human state. 


    Property from an Important Private Japanese Collection


    Phillips is delighted to offer Property from an Important Private Japanese Collection, comprising six sculptures by Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol, and Henry Moore. Acquired from the Contemporary Sculpture Center, Japan, the present works have resided in the same private collection for several decades.


    Rodin redefined monumental sculpture towards the end of the 19th century, establishing a new sculptural idiom which inspired not only his contemporaries and students but future generations alike. The forefather of modern sculpture, Rodin was interested in exploring and capturing individual and very human characteristics in his mythological, allegorical, and veridical subject matters—such is the case in the literary reference to Dante he employed in Les Trois Ombres as well as in Balzac, deuxième étude pour le Nu F and Balzac, étude drapée avec capuchon et un jabot de dentelle, both being in honor of the great French writer of the Comédie humanie, Honoré de Balzac. In both cases, Rodin, a voracious reader, intensely studied the Divine Comedy and Balzac’s literature in preparation for the respective bronzes. Whether real or imaginary, Rodin was attempting, through the works’ physicality, to capture the essence of the work’s source, ultimately to achieve a symbolic representation. The contorted bodies of Les Trois Ombres and staunch forms of the Balzac poignantly capture the human experience and psychologic states of the figures, as is characteristic of Rodin’s approach. 

    "Maillol is the equal of the greatest sculptors. What is admirable in Maillol, what is, so to speak eternal, is the purity, the clarity, the limpidity of his workmanship and thought." —Auguste Rodin

    The works of Aristide Maillol reflect Rodin’s deeply rooted influence on modern sculpture. Practicing during a time which celebrated Rodin’s realist approach, Maillol shifted away from the despaired subjects and contorted figures of Rodin, gradually moving toward a more archetypical form of sculpture, epitomized in Torse de l’Eté and Petite Flore nue. Maillol preferred to preserve and purify the classical sculptural tradition of the body, while Rodin emphasized the emotional or psychological undertones. Although Maillol only began creating sculptures around 1895—and they mostly included small clay statuettes—they quickly gained popularity among collectors, one of which was Rodin. Rodin even attended Maillol’s first solo exhibition and reportedly expressed, “Maillol is the equal of the greatest sculptors. What is admirable in Maillol, what is, so to speak eternal, is the purity, the clarity, the limpidity of his workmanship and thought.” 

  • Moore’s Square Head Relief echoes the work of both Rodin and Maillol: while the British sculptor’s exploration of the emotional interiority of humanity and his interest in culling from literature shares an affinity with Rodin’s central concerns, Moore’s work formally coincides with Maillol’s penchant for softened edges and placid presence. Square Head Relief is dynamic, open-aired, and perplexing. His distinctive reduction of the human figure to its most essential elements, which he then abstracted, express deeply profound interpretations of the human state, a characteristic so focal to Rodin’s oeuvre. 
    "[I realize] that a lot of things one might be using and being influenced by are, compared with Rodin, altogether too easy. So that as time has gone on, my admiration for Rodin has grown and grown."
    —Henry Moore

    These artists’ influence on both post-war art as well as the work of contemporary artists working today is undeniable. The raw physicality and psychological undertone of bronzes by other artists included in our Morning and Afternoon Sales—whether by explicit engagement or chance—are indebted to Rodin’s approach. Francisco Zúñiga is a prime example of a figure embodying the depth of emotion Rodin’s figures do, rendering a woman in a woeful position, capturing the lonely and solemn emotions that accompany human existence. Lynn Chadwick’s idiosyncratic subjects, such as Sitting Figure I and II, are sensual and expressive even while rendered in rough edges or lines. Augustín Cárdenas’ flowing, efficient, and whimsical hand, evident in Totem, places him as natural successor of Henry Moore. On the other hand, Tony Cragg’s Two Moods embodies the psychological tone imbued in Rodin’s works. Even Yayoi Kusama’s Bronze Shoes takes on an allegorical quality like that of Rodin’s, hers harkening back to the tale of Cinderella and her storied glass slippers, perhaps intentionally rendered in the physically and historically weighty medium of bronze. From Zúñiga to Cragg, 20th and 21st century artists have looked to Rodin, Maillol, and Moore for both subject matter and manner of approach. Whether they were reinforcing his influence or responding to it, in their own way, each of these artists continued the legacy of Rodin in redefining the modern language for sculpture. 


    Lost Wax Bronze Casting


    Conceived and executed between 1886 and 1981, the Rodins and Maillols in this superb grouping celebrate the technique and merit of bronze lost wax casting, successfully reexamining the importance of posthumous casting and the preservation of the artists’ legacy. 


    The view some may associate with posthumous casts is conditioned by a specific historical ideology that dates to the 19th and 20th centuries that prioritized notions of “originality” and “authenticity.” This is based on a misunderstanding of the process of creating a bronze sculpture, which entails the creation of a model that needs to be copied and cast, a process which the artist did not always oversee as closely as many imagine. Rodin was one of the first who took a forward-thinking approach to the “original” and the value of multiples that would go on to inform many outstanding artists of the 20th century. These later casts should be viewed together with sculpture that was being made during the last 70 years to illustrate the enduring influence and relevance of Rodin’s approach not only to the human form but to the way we perceive art today.  As attitudes change, some artists have recently seen an increase in prices for posthumous works, because as these artists remind us: what really counts is the mind, not the hand. 


    • Provenance

      Musée Rodin, Paris
      Contemporary Sculpture Center, Tokyo (acquired from the above in July 1982)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Antoinette Le Norman-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin: Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, vol. II, no. S.1191, p. 564 (another example illustrated)

Property from an Important Japanese Private Collection


Trois ombres, Taille de la Porte dite aussi 'Moyen Modèle'—variante

incised with the artist's signature and number "A Rodin N° 11" front of left figure's feet; stamped with the Founderie de Coubertin foundry mark and incised with the inscription and date "© By Musée Rodin 1981" back left of base
40 1/2 x 34 1/2 x 15 1/4 in. (102.9 x 87.6 x 38.7 cm)
Conceived before 1886 and cast in bronze in September 1981–February 1982, this work is number 11 from an edition of approximately 13 made for the Musée Rodin, Paris, between 1928 and 1982, and one of 4 that was cast by Fonderie de Coubertin, Paris, between 1980 and 1982. 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 et Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay under the archive no. 2021-6488B.

Full Cataloguing

$600,000 - 800,000 

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session, New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York Auction 18 November 2021