Material Study

by Michael O'Malley

last edited on Tue. November 11 2014

Where does a sculpture come from? If it’s a bronze from the early 20th century, you can flip it over and check the foundry mark on the bottom. Occasionally, however, these sculptures were never stamped. In other cases, the foundry mark may be unreliable.

Over the past year, researchers from the Northwestern University–Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) analyzed the elemental compositions of 23 sculptures from the Smart’s collection using material samples and a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. Project team member Monica Ganio will share the findings at a public talk at the Smart on November 19 at 1 pm.

Results showed the composition of the ternary copper alloy, namely copper together with zinc and tin, used by the foundries that cast the objects. Comparing the amounts of zinc and tin, the two principal alloying agents, with foundry marks, archival documents, and previously published data, the project has shed new light on the physical orgins of these sculpture.

While much art historical information was confirmed by the technical data, some contradictions also arose. For example, the chemical composition of a Lipchitz sculpture with no foundry mark, Study for Hagar: Maquette No. 1, suggests that it was cast at the Georges Rudier foundry in Paris, but biographical evidence shows that Lipchitz was living in New York at the time. Also, extremely high zinc levels in Rodin’s Reclining Figurequestion the Alexis Rudier foundry mark stamped on the bottom of the sculpture, suggesting it was produced at the Susse Frères or Clementi foundries.

Learn more about the study and its findings at the event on November 19 or check back on the Smart Blog for future updates.

Objects studied

Emile-Antoine Bourdelle
Head of My Little Love, 1914

Alexandre-Louis-Marie Charpentier
Inkwell or Starvation, 1894

Edgar Degas
Woman Stretching, 1896–1917 (wax model), 1919–1921 (edition cast)

André Derain
The Warrior Woman of Mystery, 1939–1950*

Jacques Lipchitz
Rape of Europa (Rape of Europa II?), 1938

Study for Hagar: Maquette No. 1, 1948

Study for Hagar: Maquette No. 2, 1948

Reclining Figure, 1928

Second Study for Sacrifice, also titled Sacrifice I, 1948–1958

Seated Man (Meditation), 1925*

Pierrot with Clarinet, 1919*

Aristide Maillol
Woman with a Crab, 1905*

Henri Matisse
Small Nude on a Sofa, 1924

Mahmoud Mukhtar
On the Banks of the Nile, circa 1920*

Auguste Rodin
The Juggler, 1892–1895 or 1909 (model), 1956 (Musee Rodin cast)

The Cathedral, 1908

Titan I, 1879–1880 (original clay model, posthumously? cast in bronze)

Nude Female Figure, mid-1880s or late 1890s (model)

Despair, also titled Small Despair (Woman Seated with Her Foot in the Air), 1880–1890 (model), 1956 (Musee Rodin cast)*

Small Standing Torso, 1882 (model), 1958 (Musee Rodin cast)

Reclining Figure (Study for Danaid?), c. 1885 (model), 1959 (Musee Rodin cast)

Clenched Hand (Study for The Mighty Hand?), c. 1884–1885 (model), 1959 (Musee Rodin cast)

* On view in Carved, Cast, Crumpled: Sculpture All Ways.

A version of this article was originally published in the Fall 2014 edition of At the Smart.