• Portrait de Danseuse Cambodgienne (Portrait of Cambodian Female Dancer), Princess Sumphady? - Auguste Rodin, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
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Portrait de Danseuse Cambodgienne (Portrait of Cambodian Female Dancer), Princess Sumphady?

Auguste Rodin

(French, 1840-1917)

Graphite, watercolour, gouache, heightened with black pencil and wove paper
Watermark: DALON LES-ANNONAY B CRAYON ACNE MANUFRE CANSON
Dimensions: 13 x 10" (31.8 x 24.4 cm)

Conceived and drawn circa 1906-1907


Provenance:

Odilon Roche Collection

Curtis O. Baer Collection (since 1958)

Private American Collection

In 1906, the Royal Khmer Dancers were performing at the Colonial Exhibition in Marseilles, accompanied by members of the royal family of Cambodia. Rodin attended a few exceptional performances that were organised in Paris in the month of July, and arranged a posing session at the dancers’ residence on Avenue Malakoff. In this circumstance, he produced approximately ten portraits of the king and his entourage. This work belongs to this group of drawings. It is the last known portrait of its kind in private hands; all others are part of the Musée Rodin collection (D4445, D4446, D4470, D4478, D4490, D4495, D4460, D4463, D4482, D4486).

This drawing was published in 1963 by Elisabeth Chase Geissbuhler in the book Rodin: Later Drawings, under the title King Sisowath of Cambodia. However, visual comparison with other portraits of the king demonstrates this is identification of the sitter is unlikely. Rodin always portrayed Sisowath bust-length and coloured with gouache. Moreover, his hands never appeared in his portraits. Christina Buley-Uribe, the greatest living expert on Rodin’s drawings, interestingly suggested that Princess Sumphady, the king’s daughter and director of the dancing troupe, might be the subject of this portrait.

Considering that most depictions of Cambodian dancers by Rodin are featureless, and that Rodin produced portraits solely on King Sisowath and another unnamed member of his crew (D4460, D4463), this interpretation is extremely plausible. The two preparatory studies for the portrait, named Deux Études de Visage de Cambodgien (D4478, pictured below) suggest the importance of the sitter. These sketches were made from life, while the present portrait was probably executed later, perhaps in 1907.

The given origin of this drawing is both surprising and fascinating: the drawing is reported as once being part of the collection of Odilon Roche. Roche was an amateur artist and a disciple of the French master. After the artist’s death in 1917, Léonce Bénédicte, the first director of the Musée Rodin, gave him the task of classifying the whole contents of the artist’s studio. Roche started thus devoting himself to drawing. His works were heavily influenced by the style of Rodin’s own works on paper, often forging the master’s signature – as in the case of the Standing Female Nude at the MET Museum, NY. If the provenance of this work were to be confirmed, the present piece would be one of the very few original drawings by Rodin ever owned by Roche.

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