A marble bust of Napoleon by sculptor Auguste Rodin, thought to be lost, has actually been on display in New Jersey’s Madison Borough Hall for the past 75 years. Titled Napoleon enveloppé dans ses réves (Napoleon wrapped in his dreams), the sculpture was actually authenticated in 2015, but was kept secret until a few weeks ago when a new home was found for it.
Dated to 1908, the sculpture was believed to have been donated to Madison Borough Hall by philanthropist Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge in 1942, who purchased it after it was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1915 to 1929..
The Hartley Dodge Foundation that owns all the work in Borough Hall commissioned art history graduate student Mallory Mortillaro to update its catalogue. She looked around to the back of the bust to find an engraved “A,” which she believed to be the first letter of Rodin’s signature.
At 700 pounds, the sculpture is not easy to move, which explains why no one may have thought to take a closer look. Mortillaro’s find prompted her to contact Rodin specialist, Jérôme Le Blay, who authenticated the bust, and even found a photo of Rodin posing with the sculpture in 1910. According to Nicolas Platt, President of the Hartley Dodge Foundation, when Le Blay saw the sculpture for the first time, he “walked over to the sculpture and said, lovingly, ‘Hello, my friend, so this is where you’ve been hiding.'”
A recent research report on by Architectural Digest revealed tobacco magnate Thomas Fortune Ryan, the first owner of the bust, had been the one to donate it to The Met. After it was put for auction, Dodge acquired the sculpture, but donated it to Madison Borough Hall without any paperwork, causing the work’s identity to be lost.
Once it was confirmed in 2015 that the sculpture was Rodin’s work, it was valued between $4 and $12 million, a price too high for the small New Jersey hall to be able to provide proper security. In order to protect the work, a new, more suitable home had to be found before news could be announced of its discovery.
The bust will call the Philadelphia Museum of Art home as it heads there on an extended loan. It will join Rodin’s John the Baptist Preaching and Helmet-Maker’s Wife in Gallery 155 in time for the centennial of Rodin’s death on November 17.