Rodin's Man with Serpent resurfaces after 100 years
The unique bronze sculpture ‘Man with Serpent’ by revered artist Auguste Rodin has resurfaced after disappearing for around 100 years after it was donated by an anonymous source to the Musee cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne in Switzerland, which also contains three of Rodin’s other major works, including The Thinker, The Kiss and Bust of Victor Hugo.
The piece, which was made in 1887, is the only bronze version of the work ever made and was last seen back in 1914 when, following the death of Rodin’s friend and major collector Anonit Roux, it was sold at auction – the last time it was seen in public view.
An iconic piece
Man with Snake is a piece largely inspired by Rodin’s unfinished masterpiece The Gates of Hell and until recently was only known in the form of its plaster mould, which is currently situated in the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
The piece, which stands at 70cm tall and 55cm wide depicts a man struggling with a giant snake across his chest and arms.
The layered complexity of the piece comes in that it yields several different conclusions depending on what angle it is viewed from.
For instance, the outcome of the struggle between the man and the snake is uncertain when viewed from the front, yet when viewed from the side it becomes clear that the creature has delivered a potentially fatal bite to the neck of the man.
It is widely believed to be a representation of good against evil and harks back to Rodin’s inspiration from Dante’s Inferno, which depicts serpents coming to bite the condemned who had tried in vain to fight them off.
Man with Serpent is also a work that has a strong influence from Michelangelo, which is shown in the man’s musculature and back.
It is the second supposedly lost Rodin work to resurface over the last two months. Back in July, Young Girl with Serpent – a bronze work stolen in a $1 million Beverly Hills art heist almost 25 years ago – was recovered after it turned up at the offices of Christie’s in London.
Having not been exhibited for so long, the piece is in impressive condition, much to the joy of the museum’s chief curator Catherine Lepdor, who recently told the Daily Telegraph it was “as if it had just left Rodin’s studio”.
She added: “We knew the bronze had existed as it was in the 1914 auction catalogue but neither we nor the Musée Rodin in Paris had any idea where it was until now.”
“It is an important work,” she added.
Roux, the original owner, first saw the plaster of the work at Rodin’s studio in 1885 and agreed to pay 2,000 francs for work in 1887 on the condition that he remained the “sole possessor” of the sculpture, and that no other bronze casts would be made.
Rodin accepted those conditions, ensuring the piece retained a unique air that has made it so fascinating to viewers across the art world.
Man with Serpent is set to appear at the Musée Rodin in Paris, which is devoting an exhibition to Gates of Hell from October 17th 2016 to January 22nd 2017, before returning to Lausanne when the museum completes an overhaul in 2019.