H. de Roos - What is an original Rodin?
What remains forbidden, of course, is to produce such posthumous casts and suggest they were cast by the Alexis Rudier Foundry, when they were not. This is what a French salesman and art dealer named Guy Hain did in the late Eighties and Nineties. The crime Guy Hain was convicted for this year was not the casting as such, but the fact he imitated the foundry seal of Alexis Rudier, to make collectors believe that these casts were made during Rodin´s lifetime (although it is known that most Alexis Rudier casts are posthumous as well). This is why these cast are called "fakes" or "forgeries"; the aesthetic quality and the patina were very convincing to the collectors who bought them through public art auctions.
In April, the state prosecutor asked the appeal court in Besançon, eastern France, to sentence Guy Hain to five years in jail and a fine of FF2 million. Hain has been the driving force behind one of the largest illicit art businesses of recent years, involving some 6,000 forged bronzes worth a total of more than FF130 million (£13.2 million, $18.2 million). The verdict will be given on 28 June.
Guy Hain is difficult to ignore. An autodidact from Dijon, garrulous and brimming with energy, unable to keep still or to restrain his comments in court, he began his career selling veterinary products. Through his work he inevitably met veterinary surgeons and he discovered in their possession bronze figures of animals often made during the late nineteenth century. In 1962 he bought Rodin's "Kiss" for FFr50,000 (old francs, FFr500 today). Later he bought a sculpture by Barye for the equivalent of FF100. The prosecutor termed him "a passionate collector with flair".
His unreliability in his chosen field however caused the veterinary profession to barr him from working as a salesman. He subsequently became an art dealer and opened a gallery in the Louvre des Antiquaires with the name of "Aux ducs de Bourgogne".
At the end of the 1980s the art market was booming and Hain reckoned that now was the time to change gear. Having become an art publisher he closed his gallery in 1988 and made himself familiar with the world of metal casting and foundries, particularly with the famous Rudier family who had been responsible for casting bronzes for Rodin.
At Sotheby's he met Georges Rudier who, with his son Bernard, carried on the work of Alexis, their forefather and one of the 20 or so founders who had cast sculptures for Rodin in his lifetime. Guy Hain himself set up a chasing workshop in Nogent-sur-Marne; then, when he had worked with a few foundries in the Haute-Saône, in 1990 bought the Balland foundry in Luxeuil-les-Bains.
Solange Jonckheere, his wife, with whom he still lives notwithstanding the fact that they are divorced, manages the business.
Guy Hain was first tried originally in June 1997 by the court of summary jurisdiction in Lure after an investigation carried out by the authorities of the Haute-Saône.
Ministry officials seized several hundred pieces produced to order for him. He was sentenced to four years in jail but was released after eighteen months. Two commissaires-priseurs (French auctioneers) from Rambouillet, Maîtres Faure and Rey, were summonsed at the same time as Hain. They were later discharged.
After Guy Hain left prison, he went back to having bronzes cast for him, covering his tracks by using various foundries in this remote part of France, one to do the casting, another the chasing, and a third the patination. He reassured the craftsmen about his use of famous names by telling them that he had registered "Alexis Rudier" and "Rodin" as trademarks.
But the law caught up with Hain, and so he found himself in court again this April. The court referred to the lengthy inquiry dating back to 1991 and carried out by Inspector Vincenot of the Dijon investigative police department, which had also worked on a separate case of fake Giacomettis. The trial was remarkable because of the very large number of works confiscated and cited, about 1100 by 98 different artists including such famous names as Rodin, Maillol, Claudel, Bourdelle, Barye, Carpeaux, Mène (see list below). The scope of the alleged fraud has made the whole section of the art market dealing with French late 19th- and early 20th-century bronzes suspect.
Gilles Perrault, a Paris-based conservator and expert advisor to the supreme court of France (Cour de Cassation), has spent a whole year studying the plaster models, bronzes and moulds found in Guy Hain's foundry of Balland and other workshops. Mr Perrault has calculated on the technical evidence that Hain made about 6,000 sculptures over and above the ones confiscated, only one-third of which have been traced, sold through international antique fairs such as TEFAF Maastricht, or at public auction; for example, Rodin's "Bronze Age" sold at Drouot in November 1989 for FF4 million.
Hain began by putting his casts in auctions at Rey et Faure; then he began to sent them to Poulain -Le Fur, and when they became suspicious, he would have the best pieces consigned by third parties. On one occasion he paid his daughter's father in law FFr35,000 to come up from Marseilles to consign a sculpture.
Rey and Faure are calculated to have earned FFr12 million from fake sculpture sold by them between 1987 and 1991. In 1993, the total value of fake bronzes sold by Hain was calculated to be more than FFr130 million. Solange Jonckheere, Guy Hain's partner, received FF18 million in different bank accounts between 1987 and 1991.
In June the appeal court will have to decide on two questions. To what extent, and by what procedures, is it legal for a metal founder to reproduce works of art in bronze? The question of the use of the founder's signature, Rudier, also has to be addressed.
Hain claims to have a contract allowing him to use it with two different forenames, Georges and Alexis. In fact he registered it as a trademark with the Institut national de la propriété industrielle (INPI) in 2000, together with a number of other founders' names including Barbedienne. But Georges Rudier sued Hain to get back the names of Alexis and Georges Rudier, which in any case Hain had no legal right to use on new sculptures.
Gilles Perrault explains that Hain demonstrated a clear intention to commit fraud; in numerous cases, when Hain was collaborating with Georges Rudier he would mill off Georges' mark from sculptures and put on the mark of Alexis Rudier to make the pieces seem older. By using the signature of Alexis Rudier - a mark used officially for casts of the work of Rodin- Hain aimed to persuade the public that his creations were original, executed while the artist was still alive and under his auspices; he did not use the mark of Georges Rudier who never worked as a metal founder during Rodin's lifetime.
By French law, an artist is allowed to make twelve copies of any bronze sculpture, all to be numbered. Any further copy, even if made in the artist's lifetime and under his supervision, is legally considered a reproduction, and the word "reproduction" must appear on the sculpture (the law omits, however, to specify what size this mark should be and where it should appear; it is often therefore in minute letters). Bronzes coming from Hain never declare themselves to be reproductions.
Surprisingly, the question of what is and what is not an original bronze is not governed by whether it was made in the artist's lifetime. If, the full complement of twelve casts has not been made by his death, his heirs may also have them cast and mark them as originals. This is the case with Musée Rodin, which is the sculptor's heir, and is still making "original" bronzes from the dozens of plaster models not fully exploited during Rodin's lifetime. They also make multiple "reproductions" marked as such and dated, and usually in different measurements from the originals.
"The true forger is someone who aims to cause confusion, particularly by faking the foundry mark", said the public prosecutor with regard to Guy Hain. This is what Hain did, by casting in signatures and founders' marks to which he had no right, replacing a more recent founder's mark with an older one, and failing to mark bronzes with "reproduction".
He made casts from artists' original plaster maquettes, or copies of them (platres d'atelier); he also made aftercasts, using elastomer ( a longlasting, flexible silicon) moulds taken from existing bronzes, building up their bases to compensate for the shrinkage in dimensions, mostly height, caused by this process.
The finish of his bronzes is usually good, the patina right for the artist concerned, and as different versions of the same bronze rarely get measured together, marginal differences in size would usually go unnoticed as the pieces went though the art trade. Any bronzes by the artists whose works were found in Hain's workshops, which do not have a history going back before about 1988 must be examined very carefully from now onwards.
And since Guy Hain was not the only and not the first one who has been forging Rodin sculptures – already the Montagutelli brothers started to forge Rodin´s work and were persecuted by him [De Caso, p. 341] - over the decades the Musée Rodin has won a great importance as an expert institution to judge the quality of Rodin casts and tell real Rodin work from forgeries.
So, when the Musée Rodin tells the press that it does not approve of the MacLaren collection being presented to the public as "authentic" or "original" - like it did this August - this statement has an enormous impact and in fact has been detrimental already with regard to finding further venues for the R.O.M. exhibition.
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