Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Height 28 cm
Inscribed 'Amité et hommage à M. Phillips/A. Rodin' on the front of the base
Museum no. A.24-1924
Bequeathed by Sir Claude Phillips
About 1890 Rodin made four or five sculptures on the theme of despair in connection with The Gates of Hell, and this version appears on the right-hand door panel. It is possible that Despair and The Young Mother are direct casts from the original clay sketches. This would make them closer to Rodin's own hand than the majority of his works.
Rodin gave this plaster to Claude Phillips, the first curator of the Wallace Collection, in recognition of his support and friendship, and to acknowledge a common understanding of art and its purpose. In much the same way, he gave other sculptures to the writers Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Symons.
The background to this gift was that many of Rodin's investigations of highly charged emotional states encompassed the erotic, but this could not be widely written about in the prevailing moral climate. Phillips, however, defended artists' special right to engage with such matters. As well as an art critic, he was a trained lawyer and so well-placed to understand the legislation then being considered to protect public decency. In 1888 he wrote an important article for The Art Magazine in which he said artists should not be accused of 'want of decency' but defended on account of their seriousness and exceptional gifts.