Elizabeth Howard Mathiasen (by descent from the above)
Karl Mathiasen, Virginia (sold: Quinn's Auction Galleries, Falls Church, 17th May 2014, lot 160)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin. Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007, vol. I, illustrations of other casts pp. 306-309
Rodin (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007, another cast illustrated in a photograph p. 85
Le Désespoir was one of the figures that survived this initial creative process but the history of its evolution reflects Rodin’s continual experimentation and working methods. Rodin began with the figure of Désespoir (de la porte) which adorns the right door of the gates, before adapting that more upright pose to the curved solidity of the present work. In both, Rodin abandons the traditional iconography of despair with head in hands, instead expressing emotion through the taut muscles and rounded shoulders of this highly original posture, as Antoinette Le Normand-Romain writes: ‘The success of this female figure is owed to the simplicity of the modelling and the density of the composition – clearly one of the sources of inspiration for Aristide Maillol’s The Mediterranean, which, in 1905, emerged as the manifesto for a return to classicism’ (A. Le Normand-Romain, op. cit., p. 309).
This model was highly sought-after from the first, and Rodin went on to produce a number of variants, including one with the figure transformed into a bush in the manner of a Daphne. Initial casts included an integral bronze base, but at some point the base of one of the plasters was reduced - possibly by accident - and Rodin decided to have this new design cast in bronze. A photograph by Haweis & Coles (fig. 2) showing the work prior to being fitted to its carved marble base suggests that the work was first cast in this form circa 1903-4. Only two other casts of this model combining bronze with marble are known, one of which is now in the collection of the Musée Rodin, Paris.
An early owner of this work was George Henry Howard, a wealthy New York financier and founding investor in Atlas Utilities which merged in 1929 with J.P. Morgan’s United Corp to form Atlas Corporation, an investment trust which controlled many well-known companies including Greyhound Lines. Howard became President of United Corp which under his leadership weathered the stock market crash, continuing to grow into the 1940s.
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