French Court Delivers Verdict on Rodin Case

The Musée Rodin has logged an appeal.

Paris’s criminal court has declared it has no jurisdiction in a high profile case of suspected Rodin forgeries. According to AFP, the judges came to the conclusion that it hadn’t been proved that the alleged offenses were committed in France.

The longstanding case involves a company called Gruppo Mundiale, businessman Gary Snell (described in the French press as Gruppo Mundiale’s de facto chief, which he denies), and a number of other parties. They are accused of being involved in the production, exhibition, and sale of Rodin casts that were not authorized by the Musée Rodin (see “Major Rodin Case Goes to Court”).

The French press has reported that around 1,700 pieces have been fabricated by Gruppo Mundiale and its collaborators, a number Snell contests.

Speaking to artnet News, he said only around 600 pieces were made. He maintains his innocence and that of his business partners. He also suggests that the French court’s decision not to pursue the case has proved that fact.

“We were cleared of all claims proffered by Musée Rodin,” he said, “and that’s everybody: Gruppo Mundiale, myself, and some of the people who had sold the plasters.”

The Right to Reproduce

Upon his death in 1917, Auguste Rodin bequeathed his entire studio and the right to produce casts from his plasters to the French State.

A few of these plasters, or plâtres d’atelier, never made it to the Musée Rodin, which opened in 1919. Several of them were acquired by Snell and Gruppo Mundiale in the 1980s and 1990s.

“What happened is that we joined hands,” said Snell. “I put plasters into this project, Gruppo Mundiale put plasters into the project, and my company oversaw a production of bronzes.”

Musée Rodin

Musée Rodin.
Photo via: Wikimedia Commons

A Commercial Dispute

Snell claims that the Musée Rodin was aware of their intention to produce new casts and gave its approval, but that the relationship then soured.

“Our pieces were getting better reviews than their pieces, so it became a commercial dispute,” he told artnet News.

Rodin’s work is in the public domain, but in France “the law specifies that the freedom of reproduction has to respect the moral rights of the author,” explained public prosecutor Aude le Guilcher in Le Figaro. The musée Rodin has been entrusted with this mission.

The public institution is self-financing, in part thanks to the sale of authorized Rodin casts. Unauthorized casts have to be labeled as copies.

“The tribunal can only recognize that the fabrication, exhibition, sale, and exportation of contentious artworks took place outside the national territory,” stated the tribunal, quoted by AFP.

The Musée Rodin, which is acting as a civil party on behalf of the French State, has appealed the court’s decision.

When contacted by artnet News, the institution confirmed the appeal but declined to comment further on the case, as proceedings are ongoing.

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