H. de Roos - Rodin´s Approach to Art

16. accident and damage 

For Rodin, a single hand, a torso, an unfinished study could contain as much truth and beauty as the complete figure. One reason Rodin appreciated such partial works may have been that most relicts of antique sculpture had not survived the ages in one piece. He was impressed these battered works still possessed their charm, not because they were old, rare and expensive, but because in his eyes, the harmony and vigour with which they had been created still was present in every detail. 

In his conversations with Bartlett, Dujardin-Beaumetz and others, Rodin used to tell that during the cold winter of 1863/64 he hat not been able to heat his atelier in Brussels overnight, so that his terracotta model for The Man with Broken Nose froze and bust; he then would have decided to exhibit the remaining part as a mask instead of trying to restore the complete head. The anecdote should show Rodin was prepared to accept chance and accident to co-determine the appearance of his works. 

Another anecdote, mentioned by John Tancock, seems to support this as well:

When Rodin and Paul Gsell saw a cast of the Thinker (..) which was destined for America left out on the open air, Rodin remarked: "The rain water brings out the parts in relief by oxydizing them, while the dust and dirt, lodging in the hollows, accentuate the depth... It is not only due to the familiarities of the birds that bronzes and marbles left in the open air gain their rich patinas."

  Paul Gsell, Rodin on Art and Artists, p. 60, quoted by Tancock, Rodin Sculpture, p. 33

Other Rodin scholars have pointed out, though, that Rodin´s account on the mask of The Man with the Broken Nose very well may have been a romanticising fiction, to justify his own artistic decision with an intervention of fate itself. According to J. A. Schmoll, cropping the portrait to a mask would have intensified the expression of the face. Moreover, the form of a mask would have been easier and cheaper in casting. 

Rodin in his atelier with plaster fragments

Finally, Carpeaux had demonstrated the possibilities of the mask form with his Portrait of Anna Foucart in 1860 - only three years before.

J. A. Schmoll, Rodinstudien, Prestel Perlag, p. 184

Lynne Ambrosini also doubts Rodin actually left much to chance, and quotes Rodin´s secretary Ludovici, who explained that seemingly random clay scraps on the Pierre de Wiessant figure were placed there by Rodin on purpose, to create a more lively surface or accentuate a certain spot: "These artifices were all deliberate and completely conscious."

Ludovici, Personal reminiscences of Auguste Rodin, Lippincott, Philadelphia 1926, p. 71-72, quoted by Lynne Ambrosini, In Search of the Real Rodin, p. 14


Better documented than the nascency of Bibi´s mask are those occasions on which Rodin himself wilfully damaged plasters because he was not satisfied with their form, or as a method of editing them.

In the Maryhill Collection, Washington, a thus mutilated plaster version of The Thinker is on display. The story tells us, Rodin did not like its appearance, and broke off the right foot. A second example: In his Pavilion at Place d´Alma, Paris, during the 1900 World Exposition, Rodin exhibited a Thinker plaster without the head, left arm and right leg, now in the collection of the Musée Rodin. 

On other occasions, Rodin would break off parts of complete plaster casts to present them as artworks for themselves or use them as material for new assemblages. 

Rodin and headless Thinker, Place d´Alma, 1900
Photo: Descharnes, p. 186 


Malvina Hoffmann recounts:

He would hand me little plaster figures and ask me to cut off the arms and the legs; then with white wax, he would rearrange the groups, changing a gesture and adding action or some new suggestion of composition.

  Malvina Hoffmann, p. 43, quoted by Tancock, p. 29

Ambroise Vollard even reports of a wild "slaughter", in which Rodin chopped off the head and limbs of a series of enlargements with a big sword. To his shocked guests, he explained that during the enlargement process, the right proportions of the subject had gone astray; the single parts, however, were of perfect shape.

  See Grunfeld, German version, p. 633. See also Albert Elsen, Rodin´s Perfect Collaborator, Henri Lebossé, p. 254.: “Lami records, Rodin would "mutilate" or violently edit enlargements in their plaster form because he was not satisfied with the translation of the modeling our proportions of a given part. (The mold was still available to make other plasters so that Rodin did not risk losing the entire work)”.


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