Incredible Napoleon Bust By French Master Rodin Discovered In New Jersey

Napoleon

Sculptor Auguste Rodin and Emperor Napoleon are probably two of the most famous names in French history. Until recently, however, nobody knew where in the world Rodin's bust of Napoleon was located. Well, it turns out Rodin's masterpiece was hiding in plain sight for decades…in New Jersey, of all places.

This white marble statue has been at the center of the Madison borough hall in northern New Jersey for at least 80 years. It wasn't until recently that anyone bothered to look at the signature on this statue.

It was Mallory Mortillaro, a young art history student tasked with taking inventory of the hall's many objects, who first spotted the distinctive signature "A. Rodin" on the bust. She then got in touch with local art experts who also believed this Napoleon statue was a Rodin original.

To put the final stamp of approval on this sculpture, Mortillaro contacted the Rodin experts at the Paris-headquartered Comité Auguste Rodin. Rodin scholars found plenty of documents confirming that Rodin did in fact carve a statue of Napoleon out of white marble. They also found a picture of Rodin standing right in front of this miraculous work of art.

Jérôme Le Blay, a leading Rodin expert in Paris, traveled to meet Mortillaro in 2015. Only a few minutes after he saw the Napoleon bust he confirmed that it was a Rodin original. Not only did the statue match the bust in the original photo, Le Blay pointed out that the marble was the exact kind Rodin would have used in the 19th century.

Although this bust was identified years ago, it's only now that New Jersey authorities have decided to release this information to the public. Members of the Hartley Dodge Foundation, the legal owners of this piece, didn't want the word getting out about this rare bust while Le Blay and others worked to figure out the history of how the piece ended up here.

Le Blay says Rodin first sculpted this Napoleon bust for New York judge John Woodruff Simpson's wife in 1904. However, when Rodin finished the piece in 1908, he didn't hear back from Mrs. Simpson.

Rodin then sold the bust to a friend by the name of Thomas Fortune Ryan in Paris in 1909. When Ryan passed away, the piece went up for auction in 1933. Apparently, a merchant working for William Rockefeller's daughter, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, bought the statue and brought it back to the USA.

Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge created the Harley Dodge Memorial in Madison's borough hall to honor her son who was killed in a traffic accident in France. She put all of her art collection in this hall, including, of course, Rodin's Napoleon. The only reason Rodin scholars had a hard time locating this statue for decades was because Mrs. Dodge didn't keep records.

So, just how much does this statue cost? Well, conservative estimates place it anywhere between $4 and $12 million.

The Hartley Dodge Foundation has decided to preserve the work for future generations by donating it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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