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Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917)
Madame Fenaille, with Head Leaning on her Hand
H. 66.5 cm ; W. 88 cm ; D. 92.5 cm
Marble, second version, carved by Émile Matruchot. Gift of Mme Robert de Billy, 1947.
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Maurice Fenaille, Rodin’s friend and patron, was both an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, who commissioned the sculptor to model a portrait of his wife in 1898, at the time of the Balzac scandal, as if to show him his enduring support.This commission, following the one for the decoration of his villa in Neuilly,would result in a lengthy creative process: three terracottas and thirteen plasters gave rise to one stone and four marble versions.
Marie Fenaille was a fine-featured young woman whose portrait,executed on a small and large scale,was the starting point for several variations, occasionally differing only very slightly.The present work is not a society portrait, like those of Mme Roll (1887) or Mme Vicuna (1888), but a more personal portrait, since, in the 1890s, Rodin preferred working from faces of people close to him: Camille Claudel, Rose Beuret, Mrs Russell.
The first two marble versions are more faithful portraits of the sitter’s features, whereas the two other later versions are more allegorical. It was less a question of portraying the young woman accurately than of evoking her presence. The face, hidden by the addition of a hand, seems to gradually sink further and further into the block of unhewn marble. The form seems to melt into the medium, while the handling of the work, apparently left unfinished, is an allusion to Michelangelo’s sculpture.