Colloquium: Posthumous Bronzes in Law and Art History The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

The focus of the Colloquium: Posthumous Bronzes in Law and Art History is to explore the legal, aesthetic and curatorial issues related to the reproduction and the creation of replicas of posthumous bronzes. The Colloquium will include renowned museum directors, art historians, and legal experts from Europe and the United States.
Background to Bronze Casting
In the mid 19th century, the bourgeoisie began to assert its economic position. One way was to purchase bronze sculptures – miniature reproductions of famous works favored by Parisian cognoscenti.

Using an industrial process they were produced by numerous foundries and sold through catalogues. These editions provided a satisfactory income for artists.

At that time the most common reproduction technique was sand casting, an industrial method that involved producing a mould in case-hardened sand and then pouring molten bronze into the negative space.. The extreme resistance of the materials allowed this operation to be repeated indefinitely, while the high quality of the reproductions guaranteed its success.

The first contract between a foundry and a sculptor was drawn up between Susse and Cumberworth in 1837 followed, in 1843, by a rival company Barbedienne. Up until that date, the agreements appeared to consist of a simple transfer of the artist’s rights to the foundry. From 1839, however, standard contracts were put forward by the Réunion des Fabricants de Bronze in order to provide an improved framework for collaboration between artists and foundries.

The most widely used contract was for a concession of limited duration, whereby the sculptor, in return for monetary payout, agreed that the foundry would an edition of bronzes for a given period, usually between three and five years. A preference for more simple decorative elements inspired by Japonisme and the rejection of a bourgeois aestheticism at the end of the 19th century, the practice of producing editions was transformed at the beginning of the 20th century.

In order to faithfully execute the ‘artist’s hand’, founders limited the number of units in each edition.
Regarded as an extension of the original work, the limited edition broke with the industrial practices and replaced sand casting with the lost wax method. Along with the modernization in the production of editions came a rapprochement between founders and artists. Editions enabled the works of contemporary artists to be disseminated.
It is not unusual that a sculptor, in his last will and testament, would assign original plasters to his or her heirs so they may benefit from the income derived after casting his work at a later date.

However, in cases where an artist dies without leaving a will, posthumous casting of existing plasters, wax originals and cast sculptures becomes a matter of judgment to be made by his heirs or executors. When this occurs the door is left open to interpretations and misunderstandings, a problem that frequently occurs. Laws relating to property rights provide the owners of original posthumous plasters permission to cast new bronzes often in contrary with the artist’s wishes.
Consider the following: heirs, after reviewing his will, have followed an artist’s instructions to the letter and have made casts from existing plasters so that the reproduction quality is faultless. Should these posthumous bronzes be rejected from a moral point of view? Should both the artist and his or her heirs suffer the consequences?

Laws protecting property rights have made it possible for owners of plasters and original bronzes to cast new editions, thus causing damage both to artists and the art market. Our aim is to find ways to respect the rights of the artists and their heirs while preventing those who contravene those rights, and maintain public confidence in the legitimate reproduction of a sculptor’s works.

The M.T. Abraham Center for the Visual Arts Foundation is proud to lend several bronzes from its collection for the purpose of studying and researching.

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