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 2007V1067B.
La jeune mère et l'enfant depicts an enduring theme in art, the love between a mother and child. Conceived in 1885, it provides a startling contrast with the series of lovers that Rodin was creating at the time. From 1884 to 1889, Rodin depicted couples torn apart by despair and desire, which may reflect his difficult relationship with Camille Claudel. The bodies of mother and child in the present sculpture form a close, compact group, and the scene has a quietness to it, contrasting starkly with the desperation of the entwining, straining figures in Rodin's well-known sculptures of lovers such as Fugit Amor (circa 1881-87) and Paolo et Francesca (circa 1887-89).
Rodin was also working on The Gates of Hell in 1885, and he included a group similar to La jeune mère et l'enfant at the base of the left pilaster. Despite the marked similarity of composition, this figure group likely represents Venus and Amor. Nonetheless, there are many children in The Gates of Hell, both in the exterior bas-reliefs and the reliefs below the two tombs. These children likely refer to the first circle of Dante's hell, where innocents, such as unbaptized babies, were not punished but were separated from God. Certainly, the innocence of childhood is clearly shown in La jeune mère et l'enfant, in which the child strokes the mother's hair and kisses her cheek. Rodin also depicted women and children or putti in his designs for the Sèvres factory, where he worked sporadically from 1879 through 1882.
Although Rodin dealt only occasionally with this theme, it was a very popular one in nineteenth century sculpture. The sculptures of Carrier-Belleuse and especially Carpeaux provide exemplars, and their mother and child groups illustrate the intimacy and harmony expected of this subject. Strangely, Rodin's mother in the present work draws into herself and does not directly touch the baby. Thus, in comparison to other portrayals of mothers and children at this time, Rodin's La jeune mère et l'enfant has engendered richer interpretations:
"Rodin, however, departs from this tradition and introduces new psychological subtleties and nuances. A clue to Rodin's intended meaning is found in the original title, Woman and Love. This label could indicate that Rodin meant the baby to be seen as an allegorical figure, like a putto or a cupid. As a symbol of love, the child seems to act out the amorous thought on the woman's mind. The use of the putto as an emblem of love links this work with traditional representations of Venus and Amor, a theme from Rodin's early work. The woman, however, is no goddess but a contemporary model, and even the child is more like a real baby than a putto. By combining the real and the allegorical--in itself no new invention--Rodin creates a new poetic statement that transcends both the triviality of the contemporary portrayals of mothers with children and the trite theme of Venus and Cupid" (in J. De Caso and P.B. Sanders, Rodin's Sculpture: A Critical Study of the Spreckels Collection, San Francisco, 1977, p. 99).