Lot 22
  • 22

Auguste Rodin

6,000,000 - 8,000,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Auguste Rodin
  • Iris, Messagère des dieux
  • inscribed A. Rodin
  • bronze
  • height: 82.9cm.
  • 32 5/8 in.


Richard S. Davis, Wayzata, Minnesota (acquired before 1963)

Wildenstein & Co., New York (acquired from the above)

Sylvester Stallone, Los Angeles (acquired from the above)

Meyers Bloom Gallery, Santa Monica

Larry & Leah Superstein, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above in 1990. Sold by their estate: Sotheby’s, London, 19th June 2007, lot 2)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Rodin, 1963, no. 65, illustrated in the catalogue


Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1929, no. 199, illustration of another cast p. 82

Albert Sigogneau, 'Le tourment de Rodin', in L'Amour de l'art, Paris, December 1935, illustration of another cast p. 379

Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1944, no. 248, illustration of another cast p. 85

Marcel Aubert, Rodin Sculptures, Paris, 1952, illustration of another cast p. 50

Albert E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, illustration of another cast p. 185

Ionel Jianou & Cécile Goldscheider, Auguste Rodin, Paris, 1967, illustration of another cast pl. 77

Robert Descharnes & Jean-François Chabrun, Auguste Rodin, Paris, 1967, illustration of the terracotta p. 249

Albert E. Elsen, Rodin, London, 1974, illustration of another cast p. 185

John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, illustration of another cast p. 290

Albert E. Elsen, In Rodin's Studio, A Photographic Record of Sculpture in the Making, Ithaca, 1980, illustration of the plaster pl. 95

Albert E. Elsen (ed.), Rodin Rediscovered, Washington D.C., 1981, illustration of another cast p. 111

Hélène Pinet, Rodin Sculpteur et Les Photographes de Son Temps, Paris, 1985, no. 57, illustration of another cast p. 69

Catherine Lampert, Rodin Sculpture and Drawings, London, 1986, no. 141, illustration of the smaller version p. 221; no. 144, illustrations of another cast pls. 206-207

Jane Mayo Roos, 'Rodin's Monument to Victor Hugo: Art and Politics in the Third Republic', in The Art Bulletin, New York, December 1986, fig. 24, illustration of another cast p. 655

Bernhard Champigneulle, Rodin, Paris, 1989, illustration of another cast p. 105

Mary L. Levkoff, Rodin in His Time, Los Angeles & New York, 1994, no. 43, illustration of another cast p. 137

Ruth Butler, La solitude du génie, Paris, 1998, no. 138, illustration of another cast p. 187

Rachel Blackburn et al., Rodin, A Magnificent Obsession, Los Angeles, 2001, no. 51, colour illustration of another cast p. 68

Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007, vol. II, no. S.1068, illustrations of another cast pp. 452 & 453

Catalogue Note

'Iris is the piece with the most pathos ... it is perhaps the finest he ever did.'

Aristide Maillol


Cast between 1902 and 1905, the present example of Rodin's Iris, Messagère des dieux is one of only seven known life-time casts of this magnificent work. Suspended in mid-air, this image of the female body is one of Rodin's most daring sculptures, both in its defiance of gravity and in the frankness of its sexuality. The figure was originally conceived in connection with his second project for the Victor Hugo Monument. The figure would have hovered above the seated figure of Hugo, suggesting that Glory crowned his great achievements as a poet. When enlarged and exhibited independently, the head and left arm were eliminated from the composition. Celebrated for its expressiveness, Iris prompted many admiring reviews, including that of the poet Arthur Symons: 'All the force of the muscle palpitates in this strenuous flesh, the whole splendour of her sex, unveiled, palpitates in the air, the messenger of the gods, bringing some divine message, pauses in flight, an embodied inspiration' (A. Symons, quoted in Rodin (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2007, p. 257).

The flagrantly explicit composition and central focus on the female anatomy recalls Gustave Courbet's infamous painting L'Origine du monde. Though the painting was still in private hands in the late nineteenth century, a few well-connected intellectuals knew the work. Edmond de Goncourt, a friend of Rodin’s, is known to have seen it in the summer of 1889, and could well have introduced the artist to it himself. Rodin drew voluminous quantities of nudes in unconventional poses, often highly erotic ones, and it is perhaps these studies that prompted the exceptional arrangement of the Iris. The original pose must have been made lying down, but Rodin’s radical reorientation elevates the subject and its impact on the viewer.  

In 1889 the French government appointed commissioners to order monuments suitable for the Panthéon which would celebrate the founding of the Republic. The commissioners tasked Rodin with creating a monument to Victor Hugo, the celebrated author and politician. Rodin initially conceived a seated figure of Hugo surrounded by three muses, said to be Youth, Maturity and Old Age, however his ideas continued to evolve, and the number of supplementary figures declined with each new interpretation. As Rodin continued to work on the project the ‘muses’ came to possess a strong individual identity which no longer seemed appropriate to the intended scheme, out of which three distinct models, each partly fragmented, came to exist independently. The most successful of these became better known by the titles La Méditation (La Voix intérieure) (fig. 2), Tragic Muse (fig. 3) and Iris.

Discussing the Monument to Victor Hugo, Catherine Lampert noted: 'The third muse, eventually not incorporated, is the work known independently and infamously as Iris, Messenger of the Gods (or Eternal Tunnel) […] Conceived from a model who lay obligingly on her back, one leg caught by her hand and the other providing support, even horizontally she is pivoted by her sexual centre. Raised vertically, with the vagina rotated, the orgasmic metaphor becomes more obvious. It has been written that acrobats acted as models for this work and the other Iris figures. Certainly, their sinewy physiques and exhibitionist poses seem to have imaginatively permeated the forms. Rodin was at this time infatuated with the can-can dancers and saved an article in the September 1891 Gil Blas on the Chahut dancer Grille d’Egout. He was also fascinated by the ‘apache’ or hoodlum girls on the rue de Lappe' (C. Lampert, op. cit., pp. 121 & 123).

According to Jerome LeBlay of the Comité Rodin, Iris, Messagère des dieux was one of Rodin's most popular sculptures, and only seven bronzes were made of this subject in the artist's lifetime. The Alexis and Georges Rudier foundries cast a small number of bronzes after the artist’s death, and the majority of the lifetime and posthumous casts of the sculpture are now in public collections including Musée Rodin, Paris; Galerie Nationale, Oslo; Kunsthaus, Zurich; Peter Stuyvesant Foundation, Stellenbosh; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Art Museum, Los Angeles; Metropolitan Museum, New York; Galerie der Stadt Stuttgart; Beyeler Foundation, Basel; Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol, Paris and Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.