Rodin's interest in maternal subjects relates to two specific periods in his life. The earliest first dates to the birth of a son, also named Auguste, in 1866. The boy's mother was Rose Beuret, Rodin's companion since 1864. There are some drawings of a mother and child dating from this period, executed in a manner resembling Leonardo da Vinci, in the Musée Rodin. Rodin never acknowledged young Auguste as his son, who was given his mother's last name, partly for the reason that he did not wish to commit to marriage with the boy's mother, and it appeared that he was simple-minded, and not the son Rodin would have wished. Rodin did not formalize his relationship with Rose Beuret until 1917, marrying her shortly before her death. He outlived her by less than a year.
The present sculpture, and several works related to it, stem from a later and famously passionate liaison with the sculptress Camille Claudel. Rodin met Claudel, a young student of sculpture, in 1883, when he substituted for her teacher. She joined Rodin's atelier soon afterwards and was given apprentice work modeling hands and feet for his sculptures, a significant affirmation of confidence in her skills. "The relationship between Camille and Rodin ripened by slow stages into a full-fledged love affair. She began as his pupil, then became his assistant, modeleur, mistress and confidante, his 'sagacious and clairvoyant collaborator,' and finally, it is said, the mother of two of his children" (F.V. Grunfield, Rodin, A Biography, New York, 1987, p. 214). The latter claim has been cited in several sources, but remains unsubstantiated. In any case, Rodin's interest in the maternity theme emerged again around this time, and may have reflected conflicting hopes and realities in their relationship.
The mother and child pairing appear in a series of sculptures executed around 1885. A seated woman supporting two infants appears in the lower left hand pilaster of the La Porte de l'Enfer; there are two more children at her feet, and another projects over the edge. This grouping was completed by 1885. During this time Rodin also executed Jeune mère (in plaster), Amour qui passe and Jeune mère, no. 2 (both in marble), and the present subject, in plaster, which was also carved in marble. The figure of the seated woman appears again, less tightly crouched, in Galatée, 1889, and Cybèle, 1889. Variants of the seated woman and infant child also appear in Frére et soeur, circa 1890-1899 (see lot 229).
The grotto setting for the figures derives from Rodin's interest in classical mythology and philosophy, in which the cave is frequently a metaphor for the human condition. The cave may signify a wish for protective refuge, or be understood as the locus of primal instincts and emotions, stemming from ancestral memories of human prehistory. It also relates to Rodin's practice of leaving sections of his marble sculptures only roughly formed and unfinished, a feature which is more clearly observable in the marble version of this subject. The grotto serves to frame the subject in the present work, circumscribing a deeply intimate or even womb-like space, which has the effect of intensifying and thereby symbolizing the primal bond between the mother and her baby.
The Griffoul & Lorge foundry cast this sculpture not long after Rodin modeled the original plaster. This was one of several foundries that Rodin prefered using until the advent of Alexis Rudier in the early 1900s. Albéric Magnard, the supposed first owner of this cast, was an important composer in the generation of Claude Debussy. He composed a small number of highly regarded works, including four symphonies and chamber music. He was killed in 1914 after he fired on German soldiers who were pillaging his farm.
Only five other bronze casts of this subject have been located. They are in the collection of the Musée Marmottan, Paris (acquired from Rodin by Claude Monet, 1888); The Burrell Collection in the Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum (acquired in 1901); the Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno (gift of Mercedes Santamarina, 1970); a private collection in the United States (formerly in the collection of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge; and a private collection (formerly in the collection of Alexis Rudier).
Gerald Demain, the current owner of this sculpture, began his career at Cantor Fitzgerald & Co., Inc. in 1962, and was the President of the company from 1976-1988. He was a close associate and family friend of B. Gerald Cantor, cultivating Cantor's expertise and enthusiasm for Rodin over a lifelong friendship. We are pleased to offer lots 205-208 on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Demain.