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 2002-207B.
L'éternel printemps was one of Rodin's most popular compositions and greatest commercial successes. Originally conceived as a figural grouping for La porte de l'enfer, an element intended to highlight "all the stages of love," the joyous couple ultimately proved incongruous with the tragic tone of the larger composition and was not included in the final version (quoted in A.E. Elsen, op. cit., p. 494). Nonetheless, the rapturous quality of this sensuous embrace was fostered by the working environment that the well-funded commission created in Rodin's studio; government support provided the sculptor with the time and resources to hire many models and experiment extensively with non-academic movement. Rodin encouraged his models to move freely and adopt their own poses, which he had first investigated while creating freestanding, life-size statues during the 1870s. A photograph by Charles Bodmer shows the original terracotta model of the present work in Rodin's studio (fig. 1) in front of the frame of La porte de l'enfer; the clay couple in this image has been modeled on a turntable and therefore the sculpture lacks a base. Rodin sometimes gave plaster casts of the clay original to close friends, such as the author Robert Louis Stevenson. When Rodin was called the "Zola of sculpture, too realistic and too brutal even for French stomachs" (quoted in The Bronzes of Rodin, exh. cat., Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007, p. 335), Stevenson published a public defense in The Times (6 September 1886), and Rodin gifted him with one of these plasters as a gesture of gratitude.
As with many of his great figural groupings, Rodin was so enamored with the natural poses that he captured while working in his studio that he repeated them in subsequent works. The female figure, for example, is based on a torso he had created in 1882 of a model named Adèle, which can also be seen in the top left corner of the tympanum of La porte de l'enfer. Analyzing the transition of natural gestures from Rodin's earlier life-sized sculptures the smaller works that the sculptor created in conjunction with La porte de l'enfer, John Tancock has written:
"With the commissioning of The Gates of Hell, there came a pronounced change in the totality of Rodin's work, not only in that narrowly connected with The Gates themselves. Broadly speaking, the intensity of emotion found in Rodin's major works of the 1870s intimately related to his experiencing of Michelangelo in Florence, was extended to works on a much smaller scale. Until this time the subject matter of smaller works had for the most part been frivolous and lighthearted--works incorporating putti had been predominant--but now his immersion in the poetry of Dante, Baudelaire, and Ovid imparted a much greater emotional urgency to these smaller groups, many of which did, in fact, end up in The Gates" (quoted in Tancock, op. cit., p. 241).
The present work may also reflect the emotional impact of Rodin's personal life, as he sculpted the blissful embrace while involved in an affair with the beautiful sculptor, Camille Claudel, who had entered his studio as a pupil the previous year. This new wellspring of romantic passion may have further induced Rodin to abandon the politesse of allegorical convention and instead depict romantic love in deeply intimate, individual terms. Rodin also claimed that the idea for the present bronze came to him while listening to Beethoven's sublime Second Symphony. He confided much later to Jeanne Russell, the daughter of the Australian painter John Russell: "God, how [Beethoven] must have suffered to write that! And yet, it was while listening to it for the first time that I pictured Eternal Springtime, just as I have modeled it since" (quoted in Musée Rodin, op. cit., p. 336). However, Rodin, having already experienced how artistic fidelity to the natural contours of the human body without reference to a readily identifiable subject greatly shocked contemporary critics, named the work Zéphyr et la terre and then exhibited the sculpture as Cupidon et Psyché in the Paris Salon of 1897 (small vestiges of Cupid's wings on the back of the male figure attest to this short-lived name). Finally loosened from mythological narrative, the work appeared under its present title at an exhibition in 1900.
Although excluded from La porte de l'enfer, L'éternel printemps took on a vibrant life as an independent sculpture. The present bronze was cast by the foundry Thiébaut Frères, which was active in Paris from 1878 to 1901, and represents the first state of this composition. Though the couple retains the same pose in the second state (fig. 2), the work also features a rocky support under the male figure's extended left arm and a larger base; this greater sense of context lends the work a vaguely mythical or allegorical character. John Tancock has compared the two separate states: "In what must be the first version of this work, the outstretched arm and the overhanging leg of the male figure and the apparent instability of the encounter of the two figures recall Rodin's contemporary experiments with the Gates of Hell... In purely sculptural terms the first version is superior to the second since the freely floating arm and leg give to it an élan that the second bronze version does not have" (ibid., p. 246).
The present bronze is part of very early edition by Thiébaut Frères foundry and was likely cast between 1894 and 1897, when the Thiébaut Frères foundry merged with Charles Fumière and André Gavignot who cast then for Rodin only under the name of "Fumière et Gavignot, Thiébaut Frères successeurs" (B. Metman "Répétoire des fondeurs au XIXème siècle" in Archives de l'art français, 1989, vol. XXX, pp. 212-213). Other casts resulted from a 10-year renewable contract that Rodin signed for this work and the equally popular Le Baiser (1886) with the foundry Leblanc-Barbedienne in 1898. The Barbedienne foundry produced commercial copies for these sought-after sculptures in various sizes (especially for the second state of L'éternel printemps) until it closed in 1918.
(fig. 1) Charles Bodmer, Eternal Springtime, terracotta, circa 1886.
(fig. 2) Auguste Rodin, L'éternel printemps, 1898.