AUGUSTE RODIN (1840-1917) Mère et enfant drawing: 10.3 x 6.6cm (4 1/16 x 2 5/8in).; artist's mount: 21.3 x 17.4cm (8 3/8 x 6 7/8in).  (Executed circa 1880)

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Lot 5*
Mère et enfant drawing: 10.3 x 6.6cm (4 1/16 x 2 5/8in).; artist's mount: 21.3 x 17.4cm (8 3/8 x 6 7/8in).

Sold for £ 50,000 (US$ 62,465) inc. premium
AUGUSTE RODIN (1840-1917)
Mère et enfant
signed and inscribed 'a mon ami E. Henley Rodin' (on the artist's mount)
pen and ink, wash and white heightening on paper laid within the artist's mount
drawing: 10.3 x 6.6cm (4 1/16 x 2 5/8in).; artist's mount: 21.3 x 17.4cm (8 3/8 x 6 7/8in).
Executed circa 1880


  • The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Madame Christina Buley-Uribe. This work will be included in the forthcoming Auguste Rodin catalogue raisonné des dessins et peintures, currently being prepared.

    William Ernest Henley Collection, UK (a gift from the artist).
    Private collection, UK; their sale, Bonhams, London, 13 April 2006, lot 1.
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

    London, Royal Academy of Arts, Rodin, 23 September 2006 - 1 January 2007, no. 59.
    New York, Jill Newhouse Gallery, Auguste Rodin, Intimate Works, Sculpture, Drawings and Watercolors, Photographs and Letters, 1 March - 15 April 2011, no. 12.
    Bernried, Buchheim Museum, Addicted to Woman, 25 January - 26 April 2014.
    London, Bowman Sculpture, Rodin, the Birth of Modern Sculpture, 7 June – 27 July 2017.

    The present work, Mère et enfant, executed around the year 1880, is part of Auguste Rodin's venerable series of 'black drawings'. These works were conceived in relation to La porte de l'enfer, a state commission that Rodin started working on that year. The concept of the project was based on Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri's epic poem La Divina Commedia. During this time Rodin executed several studies of the Mother and Child subject, of which a related example the Vierge à l'enfant, is part of the permanent collection of the Musée d'Orsay. Where Rodin's maternal figures from the 1870s were happy, those of the 1880s were conceived in the 'somber atmosphere of the readings of Dante during Rodin's work on La porte de l'enfer' (C. Buley-Uribe, Auguste Rodin, Intimate Works, Sculpture, Drawing and Watercolors, Photographs and Letters, exh. cat., New York, 2011, n. p.).

    It was a period of intense creation for Rodin, who often turned to the medium of drawing to liberate his creativity and to outline his preliminary thoughts on designs for La porte de l'enfer. Rodin drew mainly from imagination, in order to test his anatomical and historical knowledge. The 'black drawings' can be interpreted as a contextualizing exercise that enabled the artist to model clay more rapidly and fluently. As Christina Buley-Uribe describes: 'Drawing, like sculpture, was a vehicle for experimentation, and if the 'black drawings' were still sculptor's drawings, this was because Rodin had not pushed his treatment of drawing itself as far as he had done with the medium of sculpture. He still treated his drawings as much as possible just as he would clay or plaster: creating three-dimensionality by means of transparent chiaroscuros in the manner of Gèricault, using impastos of matte gouache and pen strokes of brilliant black ink, cutting out, piercing the paper, all techniques that combined to create the effect of a sculptural relief' (C. Buley-Uribe, Auguste Rodin, Drawings & Watercolours, London, 2008, p. 24).

    Dante's poetry was not the only source of inspiration, as many of Rodin's 'black drawings' were also influenced by Renaissance painting and sculpture. Michelangelo's (1475 – 1564) work formed a particular stimulus for Rodin. In 1875, just a few years before Mère et enfant was executed, Rodin visited Florence. It was a year full of festivities in the Tuscan city, to commemorate the 4th centennial of Michelangelo's birth. Rodin was enticed by the artistic creations of this great master, as he explains in a letter to his lifelong partner Rose Beuret: 'If I say that since the moment I set foot in Florence I have been studying Michelangelo you won't be surprised, and I think that great magician has yielded me some of his secrets. Yet none of his pupils, or his masters, were like him. I cannot understand that, as I look at the people he actually taught, and find that the secret lies in him and him alone' (Auguste Rodin quoted in, A. Le Normand-Romain, ibid., London, 2008, p. 24). Rodin was drawn to the way Michelangelo translated the torment of the human condition into sculpture. The three-dimensional vivid movements of the figures helped Rodin to investigate the expressive possibilities of the human physique. Rodin must surely have taken Michelangelo's Medici Madonna as the motif for Mère et enfant.

    Rodin's delicate technique of applying several layers of an intense black ink wash and diluted white gouache over the pen markings, creates a playful effect with contrasting shadow and light. The silhouette of the Mother and Child emerge in the center of the composition, fading away in a mysterious darkness at the bottom of the grouping. The contours of the Mother and Child are accentuated with subtle pen strokes, most notably on the extended arms of both figures, the flank of the Mother and the Child's head. This painterly effect of dark and light create a three-dimensional depth to the figures. In the background we can see a lightly sketched boat appearing on the horizon. In other drawings Rodin has often depicted maternal figures and boats alongside one another. The relationship between the subjects is not confirmed, however Caroline Lampert has interpreted the boat in Mère et enfant as Charon's boat stemming from Greek mythology. Charon was the ferryman of Hades, who features of course in Dante's La Divina Commedia.

    The 'black' drawings were initially only seen by a select group of friends and admirers. Many of the works were given to or purchased by intimates and remained in private hands for a long time. Rodin dedicated Mère et enfant to William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903), who was an Englishman of Scottish origin. He was a renowned and important literary critic and poet, and was a dear friend of novelists George Meredith and Robert-Louis Stevenson, with whom he wrote several theater plays. Henley had lost his leg at the age of 12 following a diagnosis of tuberculosis. This life event became the inspiration for the character of Long John Silver from Stevenson's adventure novel Treasure Island (1883). At the time he met Henley, Rodin's career was yet to take off in Paris, whereas in London he had already established a considerable level of recognition. An instant friendship was born, and Henley introduced Rodin to a network of influential writers and critics in Great Britain.

    The first time the 'black drawings' were introduced to a broader audience was when a selection was reproduced in Leon Maillard's publication Etudes sur quelques artistes originaux, Auguste Rodin Statuaire in 1899. In the same year, the works were exhibited at the Carfax Gallery in London, followed by a solo exhibition in Paris that Rodin organised himself. For the past century, this group of delicate and yet powerful drawings, are considered to be Rodin's most desirable series of works on paper. They have been the subject of considerable critical attention: for example, the present work Mère et enfant was included in the major survey of Rodin's work held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London (2006).

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that this work was exhibited in New York, Nicholas Sands & Company Fine Art, Rodin, A Private View: An Exhibition in honor of Mme. Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, Chief Conservator of the Musée Rodin, February - March 2009.
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