The work in question is a plaster version of one of the figures from Les Bourgeois de Calais, a well-known artwork the French sculptor created in the late 19th century.
Glasgow Museums bought the 6.5-foot tall sculpture, which depicts Jean d’Aire, from the artist in 1901, reports the Agence France-Presse (AFP). It was on display during the summer of 1949 in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park, but then museum officials lost track of it.
The sculpture is one of nearly 1,750 objects that have gone missing from Scottish museums, per the Times, which learned of its disappearance from a freedom of information request.
The loss is “deeply disappointing,” says Jérôme Le Blay, who leads the Comité Rodin, an organization dedicated to studying and cataloging the artist’s work.
“Museums may have 100,000 items, so occasionally things get dropped or get lost in shipping,” he tells the Times. “Art is often destroyed in acts of war—that’s life—but when it goes missing as a result of mishandling or mismanagement by people it is utterly shameful.”
Still, Le Blay is hopeful museum staffers will be able to track down the missing piece. Another Rodin statue, one depicting John the Baptist, became damaged during the same outdoor exhibition at Kelvingrove in 1949. Staffers boxed up its broken pieces and stored them in the Glasgow Museum Resource Center. Le Blay hopes something similar happened to the plaster figure from Les Bourgeois de Calais, he tells the AFP.
His theory may turn out to be true: Les Bourgeois de Calais also suffered damage during the open-air exhibition, according to Glasgow Life, a charity that runs many of the city’s museums, libraries, sports arenas and concert venues, per the AFP.
Museum staffers have been working to improve their cataloging processes in recent decades, reports Artnet’s Adam Schrader. Part of that initiative involves conducting an inventory of all the pieces in the collection and noting which ones are “unlocated,” like the Rodin sculpture.
If staffers determine that a work has been stolen, they have “robust processes” in place for contacting the police and getting the piece added to the Art Loss registry, which makes it harder for thieves to sell stolen items, a Glasgow Life spokesperson tells Artnet.
“This process has enhanced security of the collections, preventing theft from storage in the last 20 years and reduced the number of objects recorded as unlocated, even temporarily,” the spokesperson adds.
In 1884, the city of Calais in northern France commissioned Rodin to create Les Bourgeois de Calais. The piece commemorates the six leaders who surrendered themselves in 1347 to save their city during a siege by English troops during the Hundred Years’ War.
The original bronze Les Bourgeois de Calais stands as a public monument in Calais in front of the town hall. But Rodin made many bronze and plaster copies, which today are located all over the world.
One version is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, while another is on display in the garden of the Musée Rodin in Paris. Another version is located at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and one is on view in the gardens of the Houses of Parliament in London.