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Long-Lost Napoleon Sculpture Found in New Jersey
Art And Culture

Long-Lost Napoleon Sculpture Found in New Jersey

A marble bust of Napoleon, created by French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and thought to be lost, has been found in a New Jersey borough hall where it sat for 85 years.

Art experts lost track of Rodin’s bust of Napoleon in the 1930s. Little did they know the multimillion dollar sculpture was on display in a town hall building in Morris County, New Jersey, all along.

Former Madison historian, Larry Taber, had long believed it to be a genuine Rodin, “but it was never substantiated or confirmed by the Rodin Museum or the trustees,” said Madison Administrator Ray Codey, according to Daily Record (dailyrecord.com).

But when the Hartley Dodge Foundation, owner of many artworks in the borough hall, hired Mallory Mortillaro, an art history student at nearby Drew University, to update the catalog of art in the building, she quickly closed in on the bust, believing it to be a Rodin.

“Right away, I saw the signature, and the piece characteristically fit in with Rodin,” said Mortillaro, now a public school teacher in Summit. “But I got in touch with Jerome Le Blay. He’s the Rodin expert of the world. When he wrote back to me instantly, and with such enthusiasm, I knew we really had something. Hearing him say they had lost track of this piece since the 1930s, and didn’t know where it was, that was pretty great.”

  Examination by World Expert

“Hello, my friend, so this is where you have been hiding,” said Jerome Le Blay, noted international expert in modern sculpture, upon seeing the 1908 Napoleon sculpture for the first time. He was formerly of the Rodin Museum in Paris.

American philanthropist Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge (1882-1973) purchased the sculpture after it was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1915 to 1929. Officials believe Dodge donated the bust along with other arts to the borough hall around 1942. There, the bust sat for decades as its record was lost to time.

Le Blay said to the mayor of Madison: “You’ve been living with this thing for 85 years and you have no idea what you have?” said Nicolas Platt, president of the Hartley Dodge Foundation.

Madison Mayor Robert Conley was impressed by the news that confirmed town rumors. “I’d always heard the rumor it was a Rodin, but of course you hear all sorts of rumors. So to have it actually verified was quite impressive,” Conley said. “To think that we’ve had people walking past it for years, not realizing the great piece of art they were sitting or standing next to, during a council meeting.”

The shocking origin of the bust, perched in the corner of the borough council chambers, was confirmed in the summer of 2015, but was kept under wraps for security reasons until Wednesday, when the owners announced it will be leaving town on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The sculpture is estimated to be worth between $4 to $12 million.

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