Iris, Study with Head
Acquired by an important international collection.
Signed A. Rodin
Inscribed © by Musée Rodin 1971 and Susse Fondeurs Paris
Bronze with green and dark brown patination
Height: 20 7/8 inches (53cm)
Conceived between 1890 and 1891, this example cast in 1970.
Conceived between 1890 and 1891, this example was cast in 1970. No lifetime casts of this model were made. The present example is one of thirteen casts made for the Musée Rodin by the Susse foundry between 1969 and 1972.
The present model, known as Iris, Study with Head, is an early maquette for Rodin’s Iris. In the later version, Rodin removes the head and further truncates the left arm, cutting it off at the shoulder. This present work was conceived in 1891, with the headless version conceived in 1895. The model was later incorporated into Rodin’s plaster maquette for his second Monument to Victor Hugo (also called The Apotheosis of Victor Hugo) in 1897. Here Iris is supported by a cloud and hangs upside-down above Hugo’s head complete with a pair of wings.
An enlargement of the figure had already been made in 1894. A bronze version of this figure, which was positioned vertically and hovering above the ground, appears in photographs taken between 1896 and 1898 in front of The Gates of Hell. It was at this point that the work took on the name Iris, Messenger of the Gods.
Rodin himself later briefly called the work Another Voice, when he presented it at the Place de l’Alma in Paris during a retrospective exhibition of his own work in 1900.
In Greek Mythology, Iris is known as the personification of the rainbow and a messenger who links the gods with humanity. She was described as travelling with the speed of the wind and traversed all corners of the earth as well as descending into the underworld.
Rodin’s Iris is therefore symbolically and mytholologically powerful as well as incredibly formally arresting. The model elicited both delight and horror from contemporary audiences who were not used to such forthright depictions of female genitalia. The works closest artistic prototype was Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World, but this potentially scandalous work had been hidden in private collections since its creation in 1866, therefore was not well known to the public. It has been suggested that Rodin himself may have known the painting through Edmond de Goncourt who saw it in 1889, but this is merely conjecture.
Rodin was well known for eschewing academic poses and encouraging his models to adopt natural stances, but here he goes much further and draws the viewer’s attention towards the female genitals by lifting the right leg provocatively in the air. It is likely that the model lay on her back for Rodin to sketch the work, giving the sculpture a hovering almost otherworldly appearance in its final upright position.
Cast no.1 of Iris, Study with Head in the collection of Stanford University, Cantor Arts Centre