In October 2001, the Rodin-Web was invited to speak at a public Rodin Symposium in Toronto, to discuss the question, "What is an orginal Rodin?". Special attention was paid to a collection of Rodin plasters from the former Rudier Foundry, that since 1902 had been the official founder for Rodin and for the Musée Rodin.
In the framework of this Symposium and the discussion among Rodin experts that followed, we have tried to find out more about the precise provenance and age of these plasters. We also explored their morphological quality, as compared to reference plasters in other collections in Europe and the USA.
From our correspondence with one of the other Symposium speakers, Prof. David Schaff, a discussion thread developed that focussed on the various plaster and bronze versions of the enlarged Thinker. Between 1902 and 1904, Rodin had his assistant Lebossé create a monumental enlargement, that was first exposed as a plaster sculpture in London, Paris, Dresden, Leipzig and Louisiana in 1904. A bronze version was financed by public subscription and placed in front of the Panthéon in Paris in April 1906 (moved to the Musée Rodin in 1922). Within a short period of time, the large Thinker has become a nearly universal symbol of human contemplation and over 25 bronze examples are exhibited now worldwide.
Especially in Asia (Taiwan, Korea, Japan, China), this sculpture is currently highly appreciated as a specimen of European art and as an expression of Western rationalism more generally. But when we tried to set up an online overview of the known plaster and bronze copies, we had to learn that many catalogue descriptions are incomplete or even erroneous. You can read our findings on our separate project Website www.PENSEUR.org.
Moreover, we found that among Museums, no uniform method of determining the dimensions of a sculpture has been agreed upon. Whereas "height" mostly can be easily defined, "width" and "depth" measurements of an irregularly shaped object always depend on subjective choices. Our conclusion was that only objective geometrical models can accurately describe the proportions of such an art work. Therefore, we decided to make non-contact measurements of Rodin sculptures, that will allow for an exact morphological documentation of dimensions and surface structures.
Some plaster versions (like the one in New York) are slightly smaller than others, for example, because they have been cast after an existing bronze cast. Foundry plasters that were duplicated by the foundry workers may be less detailed than corresponding studio or exhibition plasters. Some foundry plasters are worn off by casting processes or have been mollified by chemical agents used in moulding. Some plasters have even been cut apart for transport and were put together again. The bronzes also vary, because the foundries uses different methods (lost wax or sandcasting) and started from different plaster models. All these differences, that may help to answer questions about the real age and provenance of these copies, can only be determined by an exact comparison in three dimensions.
In the year 2004 the Thinker enlargement celebrates its 100th anniversary. By now, we are able to present first results comparing the Strasbourg and the Poznan Thinker to each other. We have also documented other Rodin works, especially in smaller European Museum collections, so that they can be compared to each other and to well-known reference models, for example. We also have an invitation to come over to Canada, to examine and document the Rudier Foundry plasters, but the sponsoring of this trip has not been finalized yet. Finally, we have also documented exemplary works by other sculptors, like Carpeaux, Bourdelle, Claudel and Maillol.
Our project is backed by high-resolution digital photography and classical archive research, to learn more about the history of single sculpture copies. At the moment, we are doing archive research about the art collectors that donated Thinker plasters to the Museums in Dresden (1904) and Posen (1905). In co-operation with the Archive of the Art Academy and the National Archive, Berlin, we have been able to reconstruct the family background of Peter-Walther Uhle now, who donated the Thinker on Poznan.
For the photography part, we have won the support of Anagramm GmbH, a company near Munich that has developed high resolution digital camera scanbacks (7000 x 9000 pixel and more), especially for Museum reproduction purposes. This company offered to equip us with a special Linfof 4x5" precision camera, special flicker-free HMI lights and a high-end scanback, altogether worth ca. 40,000 Euro. We also work with the Mamiya RZ 67 camera and the new Nikon D70.
For the presentation of results over the Internet, we will set up an online Database with a special interactive server technology, created by the Internet service agency Movingworld.de.
Besides, we co-operate with the Museums we visit, with other cultural heritage initiatives like the 3D MURALE project set up by Brunel University, and with other companies with a special expertise in the field of digitizing art objects.
Special features of our planned internet presentation: