DescriptionAuguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917)
Éternel printemps, deuxième état, première réduction, conceived in 1884; this reduced size conceived in 1898; this example cast between 1899-1901
Bronze with brown-black patina
25-7/8 x 33-1/4 x 15-3/4 inches (65.8 x 84.5 x 40 cm)
Signed on the right side of the base: Rodin
Inscribed with the foundry mark on the back of the base: F. BARBEDIENNE Fondeur; stamped on the back of the base: A. COLLAS RÉDUCTION MÉCANIQUE BREVETÉ
With the workshop stamp to the interior: Z / 674 / Z
Harry Glass, Long Island, New York, circa 1950s;
Estate of the above;
Neal Glass, Long Island, New York, by descent;
Estate of the above.
This lot will be included under number 2018-5701B in the forthcoming Catalogue Critique de l'Oeuvre Sculpté d'Auguste Rodin being prepared by Galerie Brame & Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay.
Rodin created his Éternel Printemps (Eternal Springtime), two lovers locked in a passionate embrace, in 1884--while he was still laboring on his teeming tour de force for the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, The Gates of Hell. The sculptor originally intended this amorous group to be part of The Gates of Hell, but changed his mind when the ecstatic impact of the lovers' sexually charged pose was so clearly at odds with the tortured theme of the Gates.
Rodin conceived the figures in his Éternel Printemps to be representations of Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini--the star-crossed lovers of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Appropriately, their love story occurs in the Inferno section (Canto V) of Dante's three-part poem (which also includes Purgatorio and Paradiso), for their love indeed became a tragic hell for them. Francesca was the sister-in-law of Paolo Malatesta, and both were married--she to his crippled brother Giovanni. Francesca's marriage to Giovanni had been a political one: her father Guido da Polenta had been at war with the Malatestas, and her marriage to Giovanni had been a way of securing the peace. It was in Rimini that Francesca met and fell in love with Paolo, Giovanni's younger and very handsome brother. The lovers managed to keep their adulterous affair secret for ten years. However, when their relationship was discovered, they were murdered by Francesca's husband and Paolo's brother, Sigismondo Malatesta, and banished to the second circle of hell, which was reserved for the lustful, and where they wandered for eternity.
Rodin was not alone in his artistic enthusiasm for the tragedy of Francesca and Paolo. Scores of European and British artists active during the Victorian period drew and painted scenes from the lovers' torrid tale, showing the couple soaring entwined through the air, meeting Dante and Virgil in hell, embracing each other before they are discovered, and expiring on the bed on which they are murdered. Notable treatments of the theme occur in works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Gustave Doré, George Frederic Watts, Henry Fuseli, and Alexandre Cabanel. Throughout the 19th century, the story of Paolo and Francesca also inspired numerous operatic, theatrical and symphonic adaptations.
In many ways, Éternel Printemps is Rodin's most ravishing expression of the Paolo and Francesca subject, which the sculptor treated more than once. Notably, Rodin's famous, and roughly contemporary sculpture, The Kiss, was also a sculptural group he had originally designed to depict these Italian lovers, and incorporate into The Gates of Hell. However, like Éternel Printemps, The Kiss also seemed incongruous within the context of Rodin's hell owing to its happy sensuality. Rodin allowed it to become an independent work and exhibited it to wide acclaim in 1887. When compared with Éternel Printemps, however, The Kiss is a quieter and more contained expression of passion. Notably, the nude bodies appear in a more static pose and are not as exuberantly and frontally displayed. The figures turn towards each other to kiss, seated comfortably next to one another. They turn away from the rest of the world and into their own.
By contrast, Éternel Printemps is more expansive, effusive and active. Paolo and Francesca are embracing as if they had just suddenly decided to act upon a powerful impulse. Paolo is only half seated, with only one leg firmly planted, while bracing himself on a rock with one hand and holding a kneeling, almost swooning Francesca with the other. Francesca's back is sharply arched as she nearly doubles back on herself, to meet Paolo's lips as though her life depended on it. The rocky ground under their feet and limbs is staggered at different levels and tiers as though, owing to their passion, they have found themselves literally on shaky ground.
Rodin derived the distinctive arched pose of Francesca's torso from the Torso of Adele, which appears in the upper left corner of the tympanum in The Gates of Hell, and for which the Italian-born Adele Abruzzesi had posed. At the time he sculpted Éternel Printemps, however, Rodin was romantically involved with the young sculptor of great talent, Camille Claudel. Reine-Marie Paris, the granddaughter of Claudel's brother Paul, has suggested that while the figure of Francesca owes a debt to the Torso of Adele, it bears distinct resemblances to Camille Claudel who may have been the immediate model.
Certainly there is a marked increase in the eroticism of Rodin's work during the period he produced Éternel Printemps, as well as a more daring movement in the poses which could derive from the sculptor's studio practice of allowing models to move more freely and independently. The mature Rodin was aware that movement in sculpture ratchets up the opportunity for exploring dazzling play of light on form, which dances all over Éternel Printemps and heightens the energy of the figures. As Rodin scholars Ionel Jianou and Cecile Goldschneider have remarked: "[Rodin] uses 'highlights, heavy shadows, paleness, quivering, vaporous half-tones, and transitions so finely shaded that they seem to dissolve into air,' giving his sculpture 'the radiance of living flesh'."
For someone as sexually charged as Rodin, who used to rub his hands all over his nude sculptures as though they were the living, breathing, models, mistresses and muses who inspired them, it is hard to dissociate this magnificent bronze from his own biography. Indeed, at the time he produced it, Rodin was embarking on the love affair of his life with Camille Claudel, with whom he was passionately besotted through his later forties and fifties. Their relationship was an intense but tumultuous one, owing to Rodin's refusal to leave his longtime companion Rose Beuret, Claudel's artistic rivalry with him and - probably - her mental instability (she spent much of her later life in an institution). He once wrote to her in a way that reads virtually like a page out of Dante, and betrays the depth of his own experience with an impossible romance: "Have pity, mean girl. I can't go on. I can't go another day without seeing you. Atrocious madness, it's the end, I won't be able to work anymore. Malevolent goddess, and yet I love you furiously."
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