The town of Madison, New Jersey (pop. 16,000) has been the home of a missing Rodin sculpture for 80 years without realizing it.
The multi-million dollar bust of Napoleon had been sitting inconspicuously in the borough’s council meeting room when 22-year old Mallory Mortillaro, who has an undergraduate student in art history, saw a faint signature at the bottom of the 700-pound sculpture and began to trace the origin of the marking, “A. Rodin.”
Mortillaro began at the bust’s final destination, the Hartley Dodge Memorial Building, Madison borough’s town hall, which was built in the 1930s for Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge. Geraldine, a niece of the powerful John D. Rockefeller, had been an avid collector of art and filled the building with pieces that she acquired over the years. She found the Rodin at the estate auction of American financier Thomas Fortune Ryan who himself had bought the bust from Rodin’s studio in Paris. Ryan had loaned the sculpture to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for many years but with his death and Geraldine’s subsequent purchase, the piece fell off the radar of art scholars and historians.
Between $4 million and $12 million
When Mortillaro took notice of the sculpture, a few weeks into a part-time job as an archivist for the building, she began a months-long investigation into the sculpture’s provenance. There were no records for any of the art in the building and, according The New York Times, the sculpture had been treated with little importance for years. She made contact with members from the Comité Auguste Rodin in Paris, who were quite excited when the piece fit the description of “Napoleon Enveloped in his Dream,” a Rodin sculpture whose location was unknown.
After travelling to New Jersey to view the white marble bust and conducting further tests of its authenticity, the Comité determined that the piece was the missing work. Though authenticated in 2014, the sculpture’s origin was kept a secret until it a new home could be found. Rodin’s work is internationally recognized and there are 22 permanent collections in 9 different countries dedicated to his art.
As such, the newly-discovered Napoleon bust is worth somewhere between $4 million and $12 million. Though it will go on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the end of October, the residents of Madison were invited to view the familiar treasure at Borough Hall one last time before it leaves.