Fresh-to-market Rodin could command $400K at Freeman’s, Feb. 22
PHILADELPHIA — Freeman’s February 22 European Art and Old Masters auction will feature Auguste Rodin’s Mere et Fille Mourante (Mrs. Merrill and her Daughter Sally), a moving mother-and-child sculpture depicting Mrs. Thomas Merrill and her daughter Sally, born during her first marriage to former Governor of Michigan Charles Croswell. Freeman’s presentation of Mere et Fille Mourante marks the first time the sculpture has appeared at auction since its commission. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Offered at auction at an estimated $250,000-$400,000, Mere et Fille Mourante is a stately bronze with verdigris patina that offers a fresh reinterpretation of the Mother and Child theme and serves as an homage to maternal love. Commissioned by Mrs. Merrill in 1908 following Sally’s tragic death, Mere et Fille Mourante was realized by Rodin in 1910. The sculpture captures mother and daughter in a loving embrace, their smooth, detailed faces emerging from a mass of roughly polished rock; its original marble copy is now housed in the Musee Rodin in Paris.
The Merrill family first encountered the venerated sculptor in 1908, when American lumberman Thomas D. Merrill met Rodin during an annual trip to France, with the commission for Mere et Fille Mourante following shortly thereafter. The Merrills wanted an everlasting tribute “in memory of the happy days.”
Rodin and the Merrills shared an ongoing relationship that reached beyond Mere et Fille Mourante; the artist also created Memorial Relief (Hand of a Child) after Sally’s hand in 1908, a sculpture that was given by the family to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. For Mere et Fille Mourante, Rodin worked from a beloved photograph of Merrill and a six-year-old Sally in their garden — an unusual process for the artist, at Merrill’s request. Upon the completion of Mere et Fille Mourante, Merrill was overjoyed, reportedly saying, “My dream of making my child immortal has finally come true.”
Though Rodin never visited the United States, he enjoyed a vast following among American audiences, collectors, and patrons like the Merrills. His renown outside of France was such that Philadelphia’s own Rodin Museum — the sole museum in the US dedicated exclusively to works by the artist — was opened in 1929, only 12 years after Rodin’s death. The Merrills would have been one American family among many to help popularize Rodin’s masterful oeuvre through their patronage.
At the time of Rodin’s death in 1917, the marble version of Mere et Fille Mourante was kept in Paris and two bronze versions were created specifically for the Merrill family, the only two extant bronzes. The present sculpture was kept in the Merrill’s private Virginia home, Waverly Farm, where it was located on the West Garden. It was transferred to the Middleburg Cemetery in the mid-1980s. The sculpture — fresh to market and poignant as ever — has remained in the family for more than a century.
View top auction results on LiveAuctioneers here: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/pages/recent-auction-sales/