Auguste RODIN (1840 - 1917)
The Clenched Hand or The Mighty Hand, small version, c. 1885

Sand cast by Alexis Rudier between 1935 and 1950
Signed: A. Rodin
H. 14.1 cm; W. 10,2; D. 4,9 cm


-Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, Rodin et le bronze, catalogue des œuvres conservées au Musée Rodin, (Rodin and the Bronze: Catalogue of the Works Held in the Rodin Museum) Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, musée Rodin, 2007, T.2, p 499-500.

-Edited by Hélène Pinet, Rodin et la photographie, Paris, musée Rodin, November 14,2007 – March 2, 2008, Editions Gallimard / Musée Rodin, 2007.

-Edited by Bernhard Maaz, Druet sieht Rodin, Photographie & Skulptur, Berlin, Museuminsel, Alte National Galerie, November 1, 2005 – January 8, 2006, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 2005.

-Rodin en 1900, L’exposition de l’Alma, (Rodin in 1900: The Alma Exhibition) Paris, musée du Luxembourg, March 12 – July 15, 2001, Editions de la Réunion des Musée Nationaux, 2001, n°32.

-Albert E. Elsen, Dans l’atelier de Rodin, le sculpteur et les photographes (In Rodin’s Studio, the Sculptor and the Photographers), Oxford, Phaidon Press / Paris, Musée Rodin, 1980, n°65-70.

-John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, The collection of the Rodin Museum Philadelphia, Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976, n°119.


“Rodin’s work includes hands, small, autonomous hands that, without being a part of any body, are alive. Hands that reach out, angry and menacing, hands whose five spikey fingers seem to howl like the five muzzles of the hound of Hell. Hands that walk, hands that sleep, and hands that wake up, criminal hands, hands with loaded histories, and others that are tired, that want nothing more, that are curled up in a corner like sick animals that know no one can save them. ”[1]

In this commentary, Rilke underscores the amazing number and variety of hands that Rodin modeled. Often very small, these hands piled up in his drawers, and the Master would use them for marcottage.[2] Then he would enlarge them, either to incorporate them in his figures or to create separate symbolist compositions such as The Hand of God, The Hand of the Devil, The Secret, The Cathedral and others. The Mighty Hand was executed in both a large and a small format.

From the moment of its creation The Mighty Hand, small version has enjoyed a very particular position; it’s the only hand that Rodin took out of the workshop and considered as a complete work of art in itself. He had several proofs of it cast, and it was shown in Geneva in 1896, in Paris in 1900, and in Prague in 1902[3]; in each case, it was extremely well received.

In addition, Rodin allowed it to be reproduced frequently in the press, which gave it an unusually high visibility. All in all, it is his most widely distributed sculpture of a hand. During the Alma Exhibition in 1900, Rodin showed not only the plaster but also a series of photographs of it taken by Eugène Druet.[4] The thirty photographs, featuring a bronze casting of The Mighty Hand[5] standing on a marble pedestal or emerging from white drapery,[6] presented a singular vision of the work; because of the different angles and perspectives, the expressive capacities of The Mighty Hand, small version are greatly multiplied, suggesting new interpretations. Some viewers saw it as crouching under its covering “like an evil beast”[7] while to others, it conveyed a mournful sense of pain.

Menacing or in pain, the Mighty Hand, small version is endowed with an intense expressivity, which is conveyed through its powerful modeling and a composition that captures its extreme tension. Rodin, through his virtuosity, rendered the force contained in this tension palpable. Through this emphasis, the hand is no longer perceived simply as a fragment of the body; rather, “Rodin ( . . . ) has the power to give to a single part of this vast, vibrating surface the independence and the plenitude of a whole.”[8]

It’s still difficult, even today, to determine exactly how many bronze proofs of the Mighty Hand, small version were made.[9] Two institutions have tried to answer the question; based on various archives, the Rodin Committee estimates that some thirty examples were cast by various foundries, including Perzinka, François Rudier, Alexis Rudier, and Georges Rudier, between 1899 and 1861, both at Rodin’s request, and then later at that of the Rodin Museum.

Antoinette Le Normand-Romain,[10] under the aegis of the Rodin Museum, has made a list of proofs known up to this point:

During the life of the artist:
—one casting by Léon Perzinka from 1899
—one casting by Alexis Rudier from 1906
After the artist’s death:
—seven castings by Alexis Rudier (after 1917) of which the locations of three are known:
*Stanford University, Cantor Arts Center, gift of B. Gerald Cantor, 1978
*Los Angeles, Cantor collection
*Los Angeles, Cantor Foundation
—castings by Georges Rudier (between 1953 and 1961) of which the locations of two are known:
*London, Victoria and Albert Museum, acquired in 1953
*n°5 Stanford University, Cantor Arts Center, gift of the Cantor Foundation, 1974.

Authenticated by the Rodin Committee, The Mighty Hand, small version will be included in the Catalogue critique de l’œuvre Sculpté d’Auguste Rodin (Critical Catalogue of the Sculptural Work of Auguste Rodin), currently in production, under the number 2012-3898B.

[1] Rilke, Œuvres en prose. Récits et essais, Paris, Gallimard, La Pléiade, 1993.
[2] Marcottage is an operation that consists of composing a new sculpture either partially or entirely of pieces already made by the artist. The sculptor breaks down his own works and reuses them in a new piece. Minister of Culture and Communication, General Inventory of the Monuments and Artistic Wealth of France, Principles of Scientific Analysis, Sculpture, Methods and Vocabulary, Paris, National Printing House, 1978.
[3] Modèle en plâtre exposé, visible sur une image d’archive conservée au Musée Rodin montrant une vue de l’exposition.
[4] Eugène Druet (1867-1916) is the photographer who worked with Rodin from 1896 to 1900.
[5] Probably a casting by Léon Perzinka from 1899.
[6] In 1900, under the title Expressive Hands, La Plume published a special issue dedicated to the work of the artists and illustrated the text with five photographs of The Mighty Hand.
[7] Rodin in 1900, p. 118.
[8] Rilke, Auguste Rodin, Paris, éditions Emile-Paul Frères, 1928, pp. 55-56.
[9] Used as an official gift and much appreciated by collectors, the casts of « Hands » made at the instigation of the Rodin Museum have increased since 1926.
[10] Rodin et le bronze, 2007, p. 501.