In 1916, following an agreement made with the government, Rodin willed his entire estate to the Nation of France. This bequest included his home and studio in Meudon, all his unsold sculpture (including unfinished pieces and fragments), drawings, letters, photographs, his library of books, and his art collection of mostly Asian and Classical Greek and Roman objects, as well as some paintings and sculpture by his contemporaries. At the same time he gave France the right to continue to cast his works posthumously.
Since Rodin’s death in 1917, the Musée Rodin in Paris has, for the Nation of France, followed his directions. Its authorized posthumus casts are made either from his original plaster molds or from molds newly taken from his plasters. The Cantor Foundation and most of its art world colleagues are confident that Rodin fully understood both the process and the result of posthumous casting, and that he trusted his executors and the Musée Rodin when he authorized them to cast bronzes from his original molds and models.
Efforts have been made in France by the Musée Rodin and in the United States by the College Art Association to ensure the quality and authenticity of posthumous casts. In 1956 French law limited the casting of each of Rodin’s works to twelve examples of each size. In 1968 France passed a law requiring that the date of the cast be inscribed on each sculpture. A system of numbering was established by French legislation in 1981 whereby the first eight of the twelve casts, numbered 1/8–8/8, are made available for public purchase; the last four, numbered I/IV–IV/IV, are reserved for cultural institutions. (Variations in the numbering system are found on authorized casts that pre-date their adoption.)
Due to the vagaries of commissions, three of Rodin’s most important pieces – The Gates of Hell, The Monument to Balzac, and The Monument to Victor Hugo – were never cast during his lifetime. However, permission in his will for posthumous casting by the Musée Rodin as the agent of the Nation of France has made it possible for these works to be cast in bronze following the artist’s death. Thus twentieth and twenty-first-century audiences have been able to see them as Rodin hoped.
It is instructive to remember that when he was alive Rodin had very little to do with his sculpture once it left the sculptor’s stand. He left it to his trained studio assistants to ensure his intentions were achieved in the finished works. Today, this is the role of the Musée Rodin.