Diminutive Rodin Fauness Fetches Over $1 Million at Paris Auction

Diminutive Rodin Fauness Fetches Over $1 Million at Paris Auction
"La Faunesse à genoux" ("Kneeling Fauness"), a marble sculpture by Rodin dating to approximately 1890, sold for €724,000 ($1.05 million) Wednesday at Cornette de Saint Cyr's modern and Impressionist sale here. At 21.7 inches tall, that comes out to almost $50,000 per inch. Wednesday's auction totaled €1.5 million, meaning that almost half of its worth came from the sale of the Rodin. Constance Lemasson, the auction house's new department head, said that "this unique work of overwhelming beauty [was] a unique chance to open with a historical piece."

"La Faunesse" is one of the figures of "The Gates of Hell," Rodin's huge, unfinished project, based on Dante's "Divine Comedy," which also contains other famous stand-alone sculptures such as "The Thinker" and "The Kiss." At least seven versions of "La Faunesse" exist today. This one has a rare provenance, having belonged for over a century to the family of the industrialist and collector Edmond Lanhoffer. Jérôme Le Blay, author of the artist's catalogue raisonné, said in a statement that the piece is "one of the most beautiful marbles to have come onto the art market in the last 15 years."

Nevertheless, "La Faunesse," estimated at €600-800,000, froze in place at its low estimate, hammering for €600,000 ($868,830) after a telephone bidding war between three collectors, one American, one Chinese, and one French. The French bidder who won the piece is "a great connoisseur of the period" who owns several pieces by the sculptor already, auctioneer Arnaud Cornette de Saint Cyr told ARTINFO France.

The restoration of one of the statuette's elbows may explain why the piece stalled at its low estimate. Slightly damaged, the piece underwent a "very clean restoration, almost invisible," according to Arnaud Cornette de Saint Cyr. Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr, who represented the winning bidder on the phone, said that "this restoration — while of very high quality — may have held some collectors back."

The rare work has a disturbing and ambiguous beauty, with a sensually-sculpted physical form and an animalistic face that also recalls a funeral mask. In mythology, fauns are known for their lustfulness and their love of wine and music. Rodin dedicated the work to the painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, inscribing his name on the statuette's base.