Lot 12
  • 12

Auguste Rodin

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
785,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Auguste Rodin
  • Désespoir, grand modèle (version avec base découpée sur socle de marbre)
  • inscribed A. Rodin and with the raised signature A. Rodin
  • bronze and carved marble


George Henry Howard

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


Rodin. Sculpture and Drawings (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London, 1986-1987, illustrations of other casts in photographs pp. 82-83

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

Catalogue Note

The striking figure of Le Désespoir was first conceived in the early 1890s when Rodin was working on the designs for his Gates of Hell (fig. 1). The crouching female nude was to be incorporated into the left door. Rodin began working on the gates in 1880 following a commission from the French government for a monumental bronze portal that would serve as a centrepiece for the planned national museum of decorative arts. The project sparked a period of intense creativity that occupied Rodin for over twenty years and saw the creation of some of his most important and celebrated individual works. A journalist visiting his studio in 1889 described the scene: ‘I remember a time when the walls, the floor of the studio, the turntables and the furniture were littered with small female nudes in the contorted poses of passion and despair... With the rapidity of spontaneous creation, a countless host of damned women came into being and writhed in his fingers. Some of them lived for a few hours before being returned to the mass of reworked clay’ (quoted in Rodin. Sculptures and Drawing (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 80).

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.