Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Property from a Private American Collection 
Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

L'un des Bourgeois de Calais: Jacques de Wiessant, vêtu, Grand Modèle

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
L'un des Bourgeois de Calais: Jacques de Wiessant, vêtu, Grand Modèle
signed and numbered 'A. Rodin N. 5/8' (on the top of the base); stamped with the Coubertin foundry mark, inscribed and dated 'c BY MUSEE Rodin 1989' (on the back of the base)
bronze with dark brown patina
Height: 84½ in. (214.6 cm.)
Conceived in 1888 and cast in 1989
Musée Rodin, Paris.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 13 November 1997, lot 248.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
J.L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, p. 397.
C. Judrin, M. Laurent and D. Viéville, eds., Auguste Rodin, le monument des Bourgeois de Calais, exh. cat., Musée Rodin, Paris, 1977, pp. 166-167, nos. 25-28 (another cast illustrated).
M.J. McNamara, Rodin's Burghers of Calais, New York, 1977.
C. Lampert, Rodin Sculpture and Drawings, London, 1986, pp. 101-115 (another cast illustrated).
M. Laurent, Rodin, Paris, 1988, p. 88 (plaster version illustrated).
A. Le Normand-Romain, Rodin e l'Italia, exh. cat., Accademia di Francia a Roma, Rome, 2001 (another cast illustrated, figs. 13-14 and 52).
A.E. Elsen, ed., Rodin's Art, the Rodin Collection of Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center of Visual Arts at Stanford University, New York, 2003, pp. 125-129, no. 25 (another cast illustrated, fig. 100).
A. Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of the Works in the Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007, vol. I, p. 233, no. S.5839 (another cast illustrated).

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming Auguste Rodin catalogue critique de l'oeuvre sculpté currently being prepared by the Comité Rodin at Galerie Brame et Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay under the archive number 2011-3620B.

The present sculpture is a full-scale bronze cast of one of the six life-sized figures that comprise Les bourgeois de Calais, Rodin's earliest commission for a free-standing, public monument (fig. 1). The genesis of the project dates to October 1884, when Rodin was first approached by the mayor of Calais. The complete plaster was unveiled at a major retrospective with Monet at the Galerie Georges Petit in the summer of 1889; the monument was cast in bronze in April 1895 and inaugurated at Calais in June of the same year. It commemorates the heroism of six citizens of Calais who, in 1347, volunteered to surrender themselves to King Edward III of England in exchange for the liberation of their city. Strategically situated on the northern coast of France, Calais had been besieged for nearly a year, and the king had agreed to lift the siege if six hostages, wearing sackcloth and nooses and carrying the keys of the city, would present themselves at his camp. Depicting the moment that the men begin their painful leave-taking, Rodin's sculptural group represents a radical departure from traditional heroic monuments. Rather than idealizing the burghers, Rodin tried to visualize them as they actually must have been, their emotions conflicted and their suffering agonizingly real. He wanted his monument to inspire the citizens of Calais by virtue of its humanity, not by its rhetorical assertion of abstract values. He explained, "I have not shown them grouped in a triumphant apotheosis; such a glorification of their heroism would not have corresponded to anything real. On the contrary, I have, as it were, threaded them one behind the other, because in the indecision of the last inner combat which ensues, between their devotion to their cause and their fear of dying, each of them is isolated in front of his conscience" (quoted in A. Le Normand-Romain, op. cit., 2007, p. 213).

Following the system of naming established by Georges Grappe in 1931, the present figure is known as Jacques de Wiessant, the third of the six burghers to offer himself as a hostage. It is part of an edition of twelve bronze casts of this figure, which were executed in 1987-1997 under the supervision of the Musée Rodin. A bearded man with a stoic expression and a lean but not emaciated frame, Jacques de Wissant steps forward with his right leg, imparting a sense that the burghers are finally en route to the enemy camp. The telltale rope is visible around his neck, and he carries a large key in his left hand, the tension of this arm implying a heavy load. The most striking feature of the sculpture is the gesture of the right arm, which is raised at a right angle to the shoulder, the hand opened in a fan shape a few inches from the face. The figure seems to have caused Rodin the most difficulty of all six. It was probably the last to be finished, shortly before the opening of the Monet-Rodin retrospective; it was never exhibited independently during Rodin's lifetime, and it is the only one of the figures that was not cast on a reduced scale. Nevertheless, it made a powerful impression on critics who saw the monument in 1889. "Another turns slightly away," one reported, "his hand over his eyes. One would say that there was before him a face that he did not want to see at all, out of fear of losing his courage." Another wrote, "A fifth notable puts his hand over his eyes as if to dispel a terrifying nightmare. And he stumbles, so much has death frightened him..." (quoted in A.E. Elsen, op. cit., p. 127).

(fig. 1) Auguste Rodin, Les bourgeois de Calais, 1884-1895. Musée Rodin, Paris. Jacques de Wissant is third from the left.
Barcode: 28975168

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