• 24. Mère et Enfant (Mother and Child) - Auguste Rodin, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
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24. Mère et Enfant (Mother and Child)

Auguste Rodin

(French, 1840-1917)

Graphite, pen, brown ink, wash drawing, heightened with gouache on wove paper
Dedicated by Rodin on the original support: To my friend, Henley
Dimensions: 3 7/8 x 2 3/4" (9.8 x 7 cm)

Conceived and drawn 1881-1903

The present Mother and Child drawing was produced by Rodin between 1880 and 1903, and forms part of the so-called ‘Black Drawings’ group. These small-format drawings were inspired by Dante’s Inferno and informed Rodin’s project of the Gates of Hell. In this light, they represent one of the most fascinating facets of Rodin’s work as a draughtsman, being only loosely based on Dante’s text, which is constantly redefined and developed visually by the artist.

The subject of the Mother and Child was already part of Rodin’s production in the 1880s. In this decade Rodin treated the figures with a brighter palette and happier demeanour, while his 1890s maternal figures reflect more deeply the sombre atmosphere of Dante’s text.

In the present piece, the link with Inferno is not obvious. Such a link can be found to the right of the child, in the background, where a boat appears, only lightly sketched in pen. This detail has been interpreted by some scholars as the boat of Charon – the ferryman of the Hades, which features prominently at the beginning of Dante’s poem.

The drawing, which was produced on a larger sheet of paper and then cut and finished by the artist once on the mount, is dedicated to William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) on the mount itself. Henley was a renowned intellectual and literary critic of the Victorian period. He was a personal friend of Robert-Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island – his leg was amputated at the age of twelve, which inspired Stevenson to depict the character of Long-John Silver in his seminal novel.

Henley was also responsible for editing the Magazine of Art and had always been a strong supporter of Rodin’s work in England. On 24 April 1882, the author wrote to Rodin:

‘I would very much have liked to see the drawings for the great door [i.e. the ‘Black Drawings’]. Legros says they are marvels, and I was really disappointed to learn that you would not trust me with them. Soon you will receive a visit from our agent in Paris, who will arrange photography of the things you think would suit us [at The Magazine of Art]’

Rodin’s early lack of confidence in his work as a draughtsman can be grasped from the letter, despite the appreciation expressed by Henley and Alphonse Legros. Indeed, he agreed to publish his drawings in The Magazine of Art only six years later, in 1888.

Although it has been impossible to provide a definitive dating for this drawing of a Mother and Child, the visual properties of the work, as well as the development of Rodin’s relationship with Henley, likely date the drawing to early in the 1890s.

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