H. de Roos - Towards a catalog of the Maclaren collection

A discussion with Gary Arseneau and Dr David Schaff (12)

Casting Histories Of Specific Works: A Framework For Research

The next day, after some short comments from my side, David Schaff´s letter was followed by another, linking the information from the physical state of the plasters - as documented by the conservation report - with the casting histories of single sculptures:

Dear Hans - your comments are fine. (...) Now, for answers to some of your larger questions, 
date and confirmation of the plasters among them. 

Although there are no tests which absolutely confirm the dates of plaster, the surfaces often reveal age. (That's vague but a start.) For each of the works you must examine carefully for
deformations, both variations from accepted models and variations because of wear, humidity and solvent compromises, and cracks or fissures of various types. The majority of MacLaren plasters - as you probably noted from the condition reports - show signs of age and in some cases wear. 
In this they are very close to the examples exhibited in major museums around the United
States and in France, including the Musee Rodin. These examples date to Rodin's lifetime. The excellent conservation of the MacLaren plasters has returned a freshness of surface to some works, but generally there is still evidence of age and some discoloration. Combine these observations with the technical data from the conservators and you should be reassured, as I was, that we are dealing with plasters in the age range - 100 to 80 years old - posited for the major items in this collection.

Now, put this conclusion aside for a moment and compare the surfaces for the Age of Bronze - small or large (not middle) - and the large Hand of God. Not only does the latter seem remarkably fresh, it's surface shows little of the very small flaws, repairs, stains, drying lines and other features of the Age. The large Hand is both quite uniform and quite undefined in surface.
A: because the large Hand was made perhaps 30 years ago (if that) and has not developed the patina which atmosphere and time have given to the majority of the other items in the MacLaren collection. 
And B: this plaster was rather mechanically generated from a marble, a marble not carved by Rodin in all probability but by his assistants. These are reasons the Hand is termed "after." 

If you pursue these examinations for each piece you will find that 2/3 to 3/4 of the MacLaren plasters date from the same general period. This integrity becomes more evident once you remove the few pieces whose condition is mediocre or poor - the Idyll, the Large Thinker, and the smallest Kiss (a cast-out item).

The next test is to go back to the pieces or the photographs and to compare items closely again, then to go to the literature - particularly Tancock. My examinations of this kind - one eye always on the object, the other on the pertinent data - led me to separate the works which are lifetime from plasters probably achieved for Cantor/MR casts - specifically, the small Hand of God, the Hand Holding a Female Torso (notice that these have almost exactly the same copybook precise signature) and perhaps the Eve on the round base. All three documented as being cast for MR by Georges Rudier, the Eve on round base because (in part) an edition of medium Eve on square base
had been cast out during Rodin's lifetime. Given the rules according to Magister Rudi this remains an authentic plaster taken from a modele approved by Rodin, but it's generation is not lifetime.

So back to your kitchen: if you want to push the core of the MacLaren plasters up to the fifties, you must propose a logic for their manufacture. In that logic you must account for the fact that plasters were almost without value until their re-evaluation by Elsen and Steinberg. Therefore the makers of such plasters would have found no market (prices for Rodin plasters, as far as I know, were very modest until the 1990's). 

".....the smallest Kiss (a cast-out item)". Photo: Mario Carrieri

Alternately, did MR require fresh plasters for new or completed editions? Why? The funds for the immense program of posthumous castings did not become available until Cantor provided the bankroll in the mid 60's and later. Even stretched - which it should not be - the scientific data will not permit a dating of the core of the MacLaren plasters to this period. Also, if you check the roll of the Cantor casts, you will find the forms of the MacLaren plasters generally absent. The only conclusion which has common sense about it is that these plasters were pre-existent to the programs of the sixties, seventies, and beyond. The plasters had remained in the storage of the Rudiers from the period 1900-1915. This fact is not unknown to the MR: it was precisely this
cache of plasters - I have this from reliable sources not through direct research - which engendered the contentious litigation between the MR and the Rudier interests after the dissolution of the firm and its assets, namely these work, in the 1980's.

Finally, lets go back to confirmation and casting histories.
There is no catalogue raisonné (this is an amazing, depressing reality for a number of reasons); therefore you must use the sources, especially Tancock - but with Frisch, Descharnes, Claudel, de Caso and others at hand - to try to establish a chronology for the casting of the major MacLaren pieces. With some exceptions it's often frustrating, general, incomplete, and vague but also

You know by now the history of Eve - large and square base lifetime, round base probably Georges - and similar chronologies may be developed generally for the Age of Bronze - only the 101 cms version seems to have been kept in production after 1920 (then the 101 cm and full scale cast in bronze in the 90's by Hain) - and for the Torso Morhardt, reductions of the Burghers, editions of The Kiss, und so weiter. Here the conclusion is more a feeling than one with precisely documented logic - but when you match up the Alexis Rudier casts, the references in Grappe, the collections records (take Tancock first), the confirmation of these works to documented plasters, and other factors, it becomes far more likely that these plasters relate to these clusters of activity than to any other.

Size and detail confirmation are very important because there were and continue to be unscrupulous, inaccurate editions. These are fakes and reproductions. Often the plaster for these items are smaller and less defined because they have been taken by making a latex mold on an original bronze (surmoulage). To access these, an unorthodox but effective way is to
go to artnet.com and to view the items with incorrect dimensions and details. You will quickly get a sense of the bad plasters and bronzes from the last half century. The best example is to go research The Kneeling Fauness in both English and French versions of the title. There you will
find the range of authentic and unauthorized forms in plaster and bronze (smaller, scrawnier for the fakes), and this exercise is also interesting for Age of Bronze and other works. It will not lead to conclusions in every case, but certainly in some. You will also find a few Cantor/MR plasters and other items for comparison on the same site.

I have at long last addressed your questions as well as I may in this format. So, happily I wish you a good new year and assure you that I will get to the essay soon.


[From: Letter from Dr David Schaff to the author, 28 Dec. 2001]





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