Created at the height of Auguste Rodins passionate love affair with the young Camille Claudel, LEternel Printemps is one of the French sculptors most highly acclaimed works. It will lead Bonhams
Impressionist and Modern Art sale on 4 February at Bonhams New Bond Street with an estimate of £500,000-700,000.
Claudel, the acclaimed French sculptor, was only 19 when she met Rodin in 1883 nearly 25 years his junior. She became his pupil and his lover. As the subject of ardent letters, it seems Claudel was the inspiration for the lyrical portrayal of love in LEternel Printemps. The sculpture was first conceived in 1884, the same year that Rodin described himself in a letter to My very dearest, as down on both knees before your beautiful body which I embrace.
LEternel Printempss raw physicality marks a shift in Rodins uvre from classical, allegorical depictions of love, to more sensual, human representations. He declared in the 1880s: there is nothing in Nature that has more character that the human body and encouraged his models to adopt their own poses for LEternel Printemps. Well ahead of its time, the sculptures earthly spontaneity had to be exhibited initially under chaste mythological titles, such as Zéphyr et la Terre and Cupidon et Psyché, as a nod to social propriety.
Yet Rodin was not approved of everywhere and in 1886 The Times published a negative review of his work. Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island and Rodins close friend, publically rose to his defence. As a gesture of gratitude, Rodin gave him a plaster model of LEternel Printemps, which Stevenson took with him on his travels around Europe.
Its a truly fascinating piece, said India Phillips, Bonhams Head of Impressionist and Modern Art. Rodins complex structure perfectly complements the erotic sensuality of the figures: for me, LEternel Printemps is one of his most dynamic works. It is exciting to see a piece that both so clearly maps his development as an artist and is so closely tied to his personal life.
It is thought the sculpture was first intended for La Porte de lEnfer (The Gates of Hell), the monumental sculptural group on display at the Musée dOrsay. Commissioned in 1880 by the Directorate of Fine Arts in Paris, Rodin worked on La Porte de lEnfer for the last 37 years of his life. Early photographs show the LEternel Printemps positioned in front of the frame for the gates, a compositional idea reflected in Rodins original preoccupation with the front view of the piece. It was perhaps the associations with Claudel and the overt joyousness of the lovers in LEternel Printemps that prevented the sculptures inclusion in the larger work.
The present lot is the largest bronze reduction of LEternel Printemps. Measuring 66cm high, it was cast in Rodins lifetime between 1905 and 1907. A bronze sculpture of the first state of the work is in the collection at the Musée Rodin in Paris, which reopened in November after significant renovation.