Le Frère et la Soeur (Brother and Sister)
Signed A. Rodin
Inscribed L. Perzinka fondeur Versailles
Bronze with brown patina and lighter brown and red highlights
Height: 15.15'' (38.5 cm)
Conceived circa 1890-91 and cast in 1899
Acquired from the artist by Lord John McLaren (1831-1910) in 1899, on behalf of his daughter Ottelie McLaren
Private collection, UK
The collaboration between Auguste Rodin and his student, muse and lover Camille Claudel is well attested. The artists produced each other’s portraits in the 1880s. Even more poignantly, Claudel’s famous sculpture L’Âge Mûr (also known as La Destinée or Le Chamine de la Vie) can be interpreted as a biographical reconstruction of her bereavement at Rodin’s decision to leave her for his ageing, life-long companion, Rose Beuret.
Considering the extent of Rodin and Claudel’s mutual influence, it is striking to notice that very few models were the direct result of their artistic collaboration. Indeed, at the current state of knowledge, the present work, Frère et Soeur (Brother and Sister), is the only work in which Rodin directly collaborated with Claudel, reusing the artist’s model known as La Jeune Fille à la Gerbe (Young Girl with a Sheaf), which was originally conceived in 1887 and whose terracotta version is currently housed in the collection of the Musée Rodin.
Camille Claudel, La Jeune Fille à la Gerbe, ca 1887, terracotta, Musée Rodin (Image courtesy of Musée Rodin)
In light of the sculpture’s biographical and visual relevance in both Rodin’s and Claudel’s oeuvres, the conception date of Brother and Sister is compelling. Rodin conceived the work in 1890, when his relationship with Camille Claudel was already deteriorating, as he decided to return to the faithful Rose Beuret. Strikingly, while the piece synthetises visually the symbiotic relationship the two entertained in the 1880s, it also relates to a crucial period in their relationship, which eventually led to their parting.
In his Brother and Sister, Rodin maintained almost entirely Claudel’s composition. This is evident if one looks at the position of the figure’s right arm, folded towards her shoulder, and legs, whose knees are converging to hide her modesty. At the same time, Rodin removed the large sheaf of wheat at the back and changed the position of the figure’s right hand, adding a small child to the composition.
This second figure relates to the numerous studies of children the artist had produced in the 1870s and 1880s, testifying to his debt and interest in the sculptural tradition of 18th-century France and, more precisely, to the work of Pigalle.
Pigalle, L’amour Embrassant l‘Amitié, 1758, marble, Musée du Louvre (Image courtesy of the Louvre Museum)
While Pigalle’s sculptures usually represent grown women or mothers in an idealised, allegorical context, Rodin instead maintains the girl’s softly angular forms originally devised by Claudel, thus highlighting her youthfulness and pubescence. Likewise, the small child is here depicted as he tries to escape from the young girl’s embrace, rather than delving into her arms. The result is an attentive and tender depiction of fraternal love, and a unique reinterpretation of a traditional model well known to the French and international public.
Indeed, the iconography and origin of the piece might have a biographical relevance for the artist. Rodin’s sister Maria, with whom he was particularly close while growing up, had died at the age of 24 in 1862, when Rodin was 22 years of age. The premature departure of his sister might have informed the subject of the present work, testifying to Rodin’s desire to immortalise the memory of his sibling through the ideal, tender subject of the present sculpture.
The piece had great success on the collector’s market during Rodin’s lifetime, perhaps because of its tender nature which differentiated it from the sombre figures that characterised the Gates of Hell. As a result of such success, numerous museum collections around the world currently house versions of this model; to mention a few, apart from the Musée Rodin (Paris), the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) and the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston).
Archival documents in the Musée Rodin demonstrate that the artist commissioned the Perzinka foundry to produce the present cast of the model in June 1899. The cast was then purchased by Lord John McLaren (1831-1910) – a celebrated Scottish judge and MP. McLaren bought the piece following his daughter Ottilie’s advice. Ottilie was an occasional student of Rodin’s in 1899 and had seen the piece in the master’s atelier. The work was delivered to McLaren’s London residence on 9 October 1899 and has remained in Britain ever since.
Sir John Lavery, John McClaren, Lord McClaren, 1902, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Scotland (Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Scotland)