Art History Student at Drew University Discovers Missing Rodin Sculpture


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As a graduate of Drew University in Madison, NJ, with a degree in Art History, I was especially interested in this story about a Drew University Art History student who had a hunch that a sculpture sitting in the Madison Borough Hall was an original by the famed French sculptor, Auguste Rodin. The art student, Mallory Mortillaro, was hired as a temporary archivist by the Hartley Dodge Foundation, which owns the many artworks currently on public display in the town hall. She was taking an inventory of the art works in the building, and this particular sculpture had been positioned in the corner of the borough council chambers, and for some reason Mortillaro was inclined to run her hands around the back base of the sculpture, where she felt what seemed like a carved signature. I guess the fact that the sculpture weighs approximately 700 pounds might have something to do with why no one had bothered to move it around to inspect it more-closely. But the crazy thing is, this sculpture has been in Madison Borough Hall since 1942, and you mean to tell me no one ever bothered to look at the back of it before?

Rodin sculpture of Napoleon found in Madison NJ

But even with the signature discovered, it seems that Mortillaro had to get further proof that it was indeed a Rodin original. She contacted Jérôme Le Blay, a Rodin expert formerly of the Rodin Museum in Paris, and he actually offered to fly to New Jersey from Paris in order to see the piece in person, and he later authenticated the work. They were even able to track down this picture (below right), showing Rodin himself standing next to the sculpture.

Rodin bust of Napoleon found in Madison NJ

So what happens next? It was determined that the sculpture could be worth anywhere from $4 million up to $12 million, and the Madison Borough Hall doesn’t have the money to insure it at that value, so they are sending it out on temporary loans, first to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and perhaps later to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nicolas Platt, the Hartley Dodge Foundation’s president, says that they don’t intend to sell it, so we’ll see what happens once the traveling shows are completed.

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