Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), "The Kiss," large version, after 1898, plaster, cast from first marble version, of 1888–98 © Musée Rodin

Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), “The Kiss,” large version, after 1898, plaster, cast from first marble version, of 1888–98 © Musée Rodin

A Paris court of appeals ruled a one-year suspended prison sentence for American businessman and art dealer Gary Snell after it found him guilty of trading in counterfeited Auguste Rodin sculptures. Snell’s business associate, French dealer Robert Crouzet, was handed a four-month suspended prison sentence. Both men were ordered to pay a total of €500,000 (~$560,000) in damages and interest to the Musée Rodin in Paris, the body in charge of the artist’s estate.

The ruling comes at the end of an 18-year legal battle between the Musée Rodin and the two dealers, who were accused of exhibiting and selling sculptures cast from 52 original Rodin molds as authentic works.

The exact number of the counterfeited reproductions is still under dispute: Snell claimed that the number is 600 works, while the French press reported 1,700. The works were sold at an average price of €40,000 (~$45,000). If the estimates of the French press are correct, the illegal sales amount to €68 million ($76 million) in total.

Before he died in 1917, Rodin bequeathed the contents of his studio and the right to produce casts based on his plaster molds to the French state for a museum. The Musée Rodin, established in 1919,  partly funds its activity through the sale of sculptures created from the original molds; but it says that it has never gotten hold of some of the aforementioned molds because they were grabbed by Snell and his company Gruppo Mondiale for $6 million, according to a 2014 AFP report.

Gruppo Mondiale cast and sold new bronzes from molds of iconic Rodin works like “The Thinker,” “The Kiss,” and “The Hand of God.” Snell, who is now in his 70s, has since-liquidated the company.

The charges were first brought against Snell in 2001, when he was prosecuted for marketing works Rodin works without revealing that they were reproductions made from plaster casts.  In 2014, a Paris criminal court declared it did not have jurisdiction to rule on the case because it found no proof that the sculptures had been produced, exhibited, or sold on French territory. The prosecution appealed the decision and brought the case to the court of appeals.

Since then, investigators have found 93 molds and 56 bronze casts in an Italian foundry which was used by Gruppo Mondiale. Other molds and plasters have been found at a French foundry and at an unidentified sculptor’s studio. According to reports in the French press, the sculptor had allegedly been commissioned by Snell to make more molds.

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...