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 2007-1160B.
The sirens, whose seductive song lured sailors to their deaths on rocky shores, were described in early Greek mythology as women with the wings and feet of birds. In later Mediterranean folklore they assumed the mermaid shape that dwells in the popular imagination today. This sculpture is also known as the The Nereids, sea nymphs who were fully human in their form, as Rodin has depicted them here--they were beneficent sprites who assisted sailors in need. Rodin's conception combines aspects of both fabled creatures: his sirens are indeed sensual seductresses, yet their song beckons the listener not to his doom, but to behold the wondrous beauty and power of nature.
Rodin conceived Trois Sirènes, like many of his finest multi-figure groupings, for The Gates of Hell, where the three entwined women appear half-way up on the left-hand door, in their original size, about 9 inches (23 cm.) high. A contemporary photograph shows that the sculptor had incorporated the group into the portal by 1887. Truman H. Barlett saw the women in place during November of that year, and later described them in detail, praising the group as "perhaps the most subtle composition on the door. No illustration can give any idea of their charm and color, for their beauty begins and ends with themselves" (op. cit.).
Trois Sirènes had also by this time taken form as an independent sculpture, and was exhibited at the Galerie Georges Petit in 1887. The group attracted much attention, and Rodin engaged the the carver Jean Escoula to begin a marble version, in which the group was to enlarged to a height of just over 17 inches (43.2 cm.). The marble version was completed in 1892, and before it was shipped to George A. Drummond, a Canadian collector (it is presently in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), two plaster models were made. The sculptor reworked the first of these in places, and it then served as the model for the present bronze cast, one of two made by Léon Perzinka in 1899.
The sensual appeal of the sculpture again made a strong impact on the public when it was shown in 1889, and Rodin decided to incorporate the female group in his Monument à Victor Hugo. As he imagined these women, they represent "three powerful forms moving like a wave which has thrown them at the hero's feet, sisters--through the momentum and the rhythm--to the Rhine [Maidens], murmuring the songs of the world which he will transcribe in his verse. An admirable allusion drawn from the very heart of nature!" (quoted in A. Le Normand-Romain, op. cit., p. 655). Rodin also combined the group with a recumbent male figure in Death of the Poet, 1890.
Dr. Max Linde of Copenhagen commissioned a further enlarged marble version of Trois Sirènes (height: 30 inches; 76.2 cm.), which upon delivery in 1902 he placed in the music room of his home (this marble is now in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek). In correspondence with his client, Rodin is reputed to have commented "The sea is the source of music." Linde later noted, "Three sounds are needed to make a chord, so he represented the sounds by the three forms of intertwined women surging out of the sea" (quoted in ibid.).