This work will be included in the forthcoming Auguste Rodin catalogue critique de l'oeuvre sculpté currently being prepared by the Comité Rodin under the archive number 1999V313B.
Like most of his intellectual contemporaries, Rodin subscribed to the fin de siècle symbolist view of women, in which the female represented the unfathomable physical powers and the often destructive vagaries of nature, while the male embodied the urge for rational thought, spirituality and creativity. John Tancock has noted that Rodin "told [the British poet] Arthur Symons that one of the inspirations for the work known as the Eternelle Idole was Alfred de Vigny's 'La Colère de Samson': 'In all times and in all places an eternal struggle takes place on earth in the presence of God between the goodness of man and the cunning of woman; for woman is an impure creature in both body and soul'" (op. cit., p. 626). These sentiments inform many of Rodin's female figure subjects across the full extent of his career, beginning with those depicted in the La Porte de l'Enfer (1880-1917) and elsewhere, including Eve aprés le peché (1881), Femmes Damnées (1885); Eve au serpent, (circa 1885), as well as later works such as La main de Dieu (1898) and La main du Diable (1903).
Le sculpteur et sa muse is perhaps Rodin's most revealing expression of these ideas in a deeply personal sense. The sculptor relates both his inner feelings toward women as well as their impact on his career and work. It reflects the end in 1894 of his liaison with Camille Claudel, his muse since the early 1880s, and the difficulties he experienced in completing his monuments to Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac during this period. The seated male figure is perhaps a variation of the famous Le penseur (1880)--instead of propping his head on his hand in profound contemplation, the sculptor buries his head in his upraised arm, and, as Tancock has described, "stifles a cry" (op. cit., p. 474). The source of his despair is the young and comely woman standing over him almost emerging from his head. She reaches her hand towards his penis where a stream of semen flows. This sequence embodies Rodin's visualization of the act of creation both metaphorically and artistically. Lucien Chantal, a contemporary commentator on Rodin, wrote that the woman represents "an obsessed love, an afflicting passion, almost a nightmare. She overwhelms the artist, she casts a spell on him, but she also breathes into him something divine. Thus possessed, he slowly begins to work out the genesis of his masterwork (in L'Action Française, 25 March 1908).
The allegory inherent in this confrontation between opposing male and female principles, and the artist's ambivalent response to the presence of the woman, who by turns pleasures, inspires and torments him, may well seem misogynistic and old-fashioned in light of post-feminist criticism; however, this conflict has persisted in resonating strongly in much of the great art of the 20th century. The contention between male and female lies at the heart of Picasso's work, and is similarly observable in his late artist and model pictures, as well as in the sexual symbolism seen in the oeuvre of Marcel Duchamp, from his Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, 1915-1923, to his final major work, Etant Donnés, 1946-1966. The controversial 2004 film Anatomie de l'enfer by French director Catherine Breillat covered similar ground, and has demonstrated that such themes continue to attract the attention of artists in the postmodern era, more than a century after they first gained currency.
The present sculpture is also notable for the composite nature of its configuration. By the early years of the 20th century Rodin could turn to a long line of individual figures and poses in his inventory, and then select, rework and combine them into new subjects. In addition to referring to Le penseur for the basic pose of the seated sculptor, Rodin drew upon the L'Homme au nez cassé--his first major work, 1863-1864--for his head. The sculpture La Coquille à la perle (Sirène se tenant les pieds), executed before 1894, provided the model for the female figure. This sculpture has thematically related counterparts elsewhere in Rodin's oeuvre: the Minotaure (circa 1886) shows a reversal of passive-aggressive roles, with the seated man-beast fondling a distressed young woman. The above-mentioned La main de Dieu and La main du Diable show small female figures enveloped within the grip of a gigantic male hand. The activity of touching and handling is of course central to the art of making sculpture.
Rodin supervised his stonecarver François Pompon in the creation of the stone version of this subject, also known as Le poète et sa muse, in 1894-1895. This sculpture featured in René Avigdor's oil painting Rodin dans son atelier, which was exhibited in 1898. Only five bronze casts are known to have been made of this subject by Alexis Rudier between 1908 and 1910. The Kunsthalle, Bremen and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, each possess a cast, and the present bronze is one of three remaining in private collections.
The present sculpture is the 2ème épreuve, and is recorded as having been cast between March and May 1908. In a letter from July 1908, Henri Duhem, the first owner of this bronze, thanked Rodin for the special patination done by Jean Limet, "The male figure in black blue and the female figure in gray rose." The appearance of this cast at auction is the first time this subject has been seen in public sales since 1975.