Désespoir de la Porte (Despair, from the Gates of Hell)
Signed A. Rodin
Plaster with red and brown shellac
Height: 7 1/4" (18.5 cm)
Conceived circa 1886-1887. This example produced circa 1900.
Comité Rodin certificate available on request.
Conceived circa 1886-1887. According to Comité Rodin, this plaster was made at the request of the sculptor around 1900, most likely by Eugene Guioché, caster of Rodin between 1897 and 1915. The Rodin Museum archives hold a letter from André Delanglade, nephew of the sculptor Charles Delanglade, Marseille (1870-1952) dated January 2, 1927 to Georges Grappe, curator of the Rodin Museum, mentioning the numerous works acquired from Rodin by the Marseilles collector Antoni Roux, works later given by Roux to Delanglade at the death of his son. It shows that his "uncle Delanglade" also received directly from Rodin two plasters "A figure of despair" and "Little Mermaids" with a dedication to Paul Arene.
Auguste Rodin’s most highly praised work relates to the commission of a set of monumental doors for the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1880. These were the revolutionary Gates of Hell. Inspired by Dante's Inferno and Michelangelo's fresco of the Last Judgement, the bronze decorative doors stand 7.5m high and depict a sea of writhing and restless bodies in a state of chaos. The work became an obsessive passion for Rodin and was still unfinished 24 years later in 1904, when the State withdrew funding for casting. He continued working on and off this project until his death in 1917. The museum itself was never developed.
The present figure, known as Le Desespoir de la Porte, is taken from The Gates of Hell and appears as part of a group of other figures evoking grief and despair in the upper part of the right-hand leaf. With its unusual pose, the sculpture showcases Rodin’s originality and ability to visually depict the feeling of desperation. The figure was conceived as a separate sculpture from the Gates circa 1890.
Rodin returned to the image three years later, enlarging the figure and changing the composition so that the clasped leg extends horizontally and the head lays flat into the back of the bent knee. This one also appears on the door panel. A version of this figure in plaster cast with a smooth base is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, donated by Sir Claude Phillips in 1924.
Auguste Rodin, Le Désespoir, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
A bronze cast by Alexis Rudier is in the collection of the Musée Rodin. Other casts by Alexis Rudier are in the collection of the Maryhill Museum, USA, the Brooklyn Museum, USA and the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. A version carved in white marble was sold at auction through Sotheby’s in 1990 for $800,000.
Auguste Rodin, Le Désespoir de la Porte, Musée Rodin, Paris.
A. Romain-Le Normand, Rodin et le bronze, Vol. I (Paris: 2007), pp. 305-306, ill. of a bronze cast
Catherine Lampert, Rodin: Sculpture and Drawings (London: 1986), p.208, nr.86, ill. of a different plaster cast.
Robert Bowman, Rodin in Private Hands (London: 2014), p. 168.