Lot 21
  • 21

Auguste Rodin

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Auguste Rodin
  • L'Age d'airain
  • Inscribed with the signature Rodin and with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier/Fondeur Paris; stamped with the raised signature A. Rodin on the underside of the base
  • Bronze


Mary Harriman Rumsey (acquired from the artist in 1909)

Acquired by descent from the above


Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1929, no. 20, illustration of the plaster p. 31

Marcel Aubert, Rodin Sculptures, Paris, 1952, illustrations of the larger cast pp. 11-13

Cécile Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1962, illustrations of another cast pp. 54-55

Albert E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, p. 20, illustration of a larger cast

Ionel Jianou & Cécile Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1967 illustrations of a larger cast pls. 6 & 7

John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, illustrations of a larger cast pp. 343 & 345

Cécile Goldscheider, Auguste Rodin, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre sculpté, vol. I, Lausanne, 1989, no. 95d, another cast catalogued p. 116

Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, vol. I, Paris, 2007, illustrations of other casts pp. 121-28

Catalogue Note

L'Age d'airain, Rodin's first masterpiece, is considered to be the personification of the artist's dramatic temperament. The physical beauty of the figure itself evokes the great Greco-Roman sculptures that were of tremendous influence on Rodin.  Its expression of intense psychological complexity here, however, was radically modern and evidences Rodin's attempt to invest his forms with inner life.  "I was in the deepest despair with that figure," Rodin would later recall of his work on this form, "and I worked so intensely on it, trying to get what I wanted, that there are at least four figures in it!" (quoted in A. Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, op. cit.). 

The model for the figure was a young Belgian soldier named Auguste Neyt, who attempted many poses before arriving at one that Rodin approved (fig. 1).  "It was hardly an easy thing to do.  Rodin did not want straining muscles, in fact, he loathed the academic 'pose'... The master wanted 'natural' action taken from real life.  However, by dint of practice, I succeeded" (ibid.).  The life-like appearance of Rodin's final composition was so convincing that many critics speculated that the sculptor may have cast his work from a live model -- an accusation which Rodin found deeply insulting. 

When the plaster of this sculpture was first exhibited in 1877, critics presumed that it was an allegorical allusion to France's despair following the Franco-Prussian war.  But Rodin's title provided little context for the figure, underscoring the sculptor's resistance to any imposed narrative.  Instead, L'Age d'airain, which refers to the third of Ovid's four ages of mankind (Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron), indicated the direction that Rodin's art was now going to take and his focus on bronze as a means of creative expression.   Rodin would later exhibit the sculpture in 1900 with the title The Awakening Man, which was a reference to Michelangelo's fresco of Adam in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel and can be interpreted as Rodin's alignment with the great Renaissance artist, if not God himself, for investing his sculpture with the spirit of life.


The first cast of the small bronze model was given to Leon Bourgeois, French delegate to the Hague Peace Conference and future Nobel Peace Prize winner,  in December 1907 (collection Musee Municipal de Chalons sur Marne). In early 1908, Rodin gave the second cast to  Auguste Neyt (private collection).

The original owner of this sculpture, the third cast of the small model, was Mary Harriman Rumsey (1881-1934), the founder of the charitable organization that would ultimately become the Association of Junior Leagues International, Inc..  Rumsey was the daughter of the railroad magnate Edward Henry Harriman, and her charitable work with the settlements of New York City's Lower East Side underscored her commitment to social activism.  When devising the New Deal reforms of the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Rumsey to chair a national consumer advocacy group, and her responsibilities were assumed by her brother W. Averell Harriman, later governer of New York, upon her death in 1934. 

Mary Harriman met Rodin through their mutual friend Kate Simpson in 1909, and commissioned a bust of her father from the sculptor.  Rodin's archives also state that she purchased a marble rendering of Pan et Nymphe and the present work during the summer of 1909, only a few months before her marriage to the sculptor Charles Cary Rumsey.  This exceptional bronze, which was cast by Rodin at the Alexis Rudier foundry in November 1907, remained with her family in New York for over a hundred years. According to the Comité Rodin, this sculpture is the third of five lifetime casts of L'Age d'airain in this size made by the artist. 

Correspondence related to the sale of this bronze to Mary Rumsey states that it was cast as a single piece by the Alexis Rudier Foundry in Paris. The sand cast retains subtle traces of mold marks on the figure's shoulder and on the base, a mark of excellence when observed in Rodin lifetime bronzes. According to Jerome Le Blay of the Comité Rodin, that patina of this work was applied by Jean Limet.