FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ACNI) – Going the extra mile to authenticate a sculpture they suspected was an original Rodin has reaped a big reward for Quinn’s Auction Galleries. On Saturday, May 17, the metro-Washington, DC company auctioned a bronze-and-marble Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917) sculpture titled Le Desespoir [Despair] for $306,800, inclusive of 18% buyer’s premium. The 13¾ by 12 by 11-inch sculpture had been entered in Quinn’s Fine Art sale with a presale estimate of $60,000-$80,000.
The buyer of the artwork, whose name has not been released, is a collector from Germany who bid over the phone.
“It’s an important and very beautiful artwork that sold for what the marketplace said it was worth, with the knowledge that the Comite Rodin had issued its authentication on the piece. It attracted intense presale interest,” Quinn’s Vice President Matthew Quinn told Auction Central News.
Quinn, who is known to art fans nationwide from his role as an on-air appraiser with PBS Television’s Antiques Roadshow, knew the monetary difference it might make if he could obtain the blessing of Comite Rodin in Paris, which has the final word when it comes to verifying Rodin artworks.
“We felt an obligation to the consignor to use whatever resources were available to us to prove the sculpture was an original. We knew the difference it would make to the auction price,” Quinn said.
Quinn spent months going through the process of authenticating the sculpture, which consists of a bronze human figure on a natural-stone base. The first order of business, Quinn said, was separating the figure from the stone to which it was bolted to see if, and how, it was marked. It was a gutsy move that involved gently hammering away at the plaster around the bolt till it loosened.
Once the sculpture was freed, Quinn saw what he had been hoping for – the bas-relief signature “A. Rodin.” While locating the signature was an essential first step, it was not enough to confirm that the piece was an original as opposed to an authorized copy, so Quinn contacted Comite August Rodin in Paris and made arrangements to show the piece to the organization’s top expert, Jerome Le Blay. A renowned authority on all things Rodin, Le Blay also authored the Catalogue Critique de l’Oeuvre Sculpte d’Augustin Rodin.
In late April, Le Blay happened to be in New York on business. Quinn made an appointment to meet with Le Blay and drove up to Manhattan with the Rodin in the back seat of his car, wrapped securely in a soft flannel sheet.
When the layers came off, Le Blay – who has inspected 8,000 Rodin artworks over the past 15 years – reacted quickly and affirmatively.
“Within 15 seconds, he confirmed it was an original,” Quinn said. Because it was cast during Rodin’s lifetime, the sculpture immediately was deemed more valuable than any copies that may have been produced after the artist’s death in 1917.
Securing the stamp of approval from Le Blay and Comite Rodin was a game changer for the star lot in Quinn’s auction.
“We set the opening bid at $30,000, and that was quickly met. A person from New Jersey left an absentee bid in that amount, and not long afterward, there were seven requests to register for a phone line. Additionally, more than 800 bidders signed up for the sale through LiveAuctioneers, although we can’t know for sure how many specifically had their sights set on the Rodin,” Quinn said.
Thirteen bidders from the United States, UK and Germany battled over the prized sculpture. It opened at $37,500, leaped to $60,000, then rose in typical auction increments till it settled at $306,800. In all, the bidding took less than three minutes.
Members of the family that consigned the Rodin were in the audience during the auction and were said to have been on the verge of tears as bids escalated through the thousands, then hundreds of thousands. The Rodin sculpture previously had belonged to their parents, Elizabeth and Karl Mathiasen, who appreciated art but never conveyed much about the history of the sculpture to their children. All that was known was that the siblings’ grandfather had obtained the piece sometime after 1960 and it subsequently passed down to their parents.
“It’s amazing, but the siblings recall that while they were growing up, the sculpture was not regarded as anything particularly special — for a period of time it even sat alongside their pet gerbil’s cage,” said Quinn.
LiveAuctioneers online statistics for Quinn’s Auction Galleries’ May 17, 2014 auction:
• Total for items sold online: $171,845
• 182 items / 31.76% sold online
• 803 online bidder sign-ups
• 555 absentee bids / 1,151 live online bids
• 1,039 underbids from online bidders
• 621 bidders watched live online
• 7,844 visitors viewed the online catalog
• 65,200 online-catalog page views
View the fully illustrated catalog for Quinn’s auction, complete with prices realized, at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.
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