Investigation of 19th century bronze sculpture casting and the development of casting in sand moulds
Tonny Beentjes, specialisation Metal
In January 2007, a bronze statue by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), the Thinker, disappeared from the sculpture garden of the Singer Museum in Laren. Shortly after the theft, the bronze was retrieved, albeit heavily damaged. The research prior to the restoration and subsequent exhibition of this sculpture raised a number of questions, which will be addressed in this PhD research.
The exhibition brought together a number of Thinkers that could be compared and studied. The Laren Thinker was cast using sand moulds, a casting technique used to produce the majority of Rodin’s bronzes. Close examination of the Thinker from Melbourne revealed this to be a lost wax casting. This was ran counter to literature descriptions where sand moulded castings are mentioned. Research into Rodin bronzes showed that between 1882 and 1886 Rodin occasionally commissioned lost wax foundries to produce his works. The Melbourne Thinker from 1884 fits into this group and we know that in 1884 Rodin expresses his preference for lost wax casting when he writes:
“Lost wax casting, the only process which can render my sculpture”
Why did Rodin choose to have most of his bronzes cast using sand moulds instead of lost wax casting from 1886 onwards?
The Thinker can be seen as exemplary for Rodin’s bronze sculptures. Available in three sizes, reproduced more than 70 times by seven different foundries and cast in both sand moulds as well as with the lost wax method, the Thinker provides us an excellent insight into the working practices of the producers of Rodin’s bronzes.
How were Rodin’s bronzes cast within his lifetime and the Thinkers in particular?
When considering the history of Western bronze sculpture casting, the 19th century and first half of the 20th century are rather unique. While lost wax casting was the preferred method in Renaissance and Baroque times, the sculptor working roughly between 1810-1960 in Western Europe often opted for an alternative method: casting using sand moulds.
What was the reason for the shift in preference during the 19th century from lost wax towards sand mould casting and what was the technical development of casting in sand moulds up till the end of the 19th century, with emphasis on sculpture casting?
The technical study of historical bronzes has concentrated mainly on Renaissance and Baroque bronzes cast by the lost wax method. In contrast, the casting techniques used in the 19th century have received very little scholarly attention. In order to place the sand mould casting technique within the wider context of foundry technology, an overview of the historical development is required.