Encore: A Bronze in the Haystack
About The Episode
It’s a little-known fact that appraisers on GBH’s Antiques Roadshow are not paid to appear on the show. What keeps them on-set for 10+ hour days season after season? The special excitement from coming face-to-face with a once-in-a-lifetime object. So when a guest brought what they thought to be Rodin’s sculpture “Eternal Spring” to the show in Fort Worth, TX, would the piece of art turn out to be an extraordinary find or a fake? Join host Adam Monahan as he uncovers the surprising story of the sculpture and the lasting mark left on two appraisers.
Adam Monahan A little known fact about the appraisers who appear on GBH's Antiques Roadshow is that they don't actually get paid to be on our show.
Marsha Bemko Au contraire to getting paid, our appraisers actually pay their own expenses to come to Roadshow.
Adam My boss, Marsha.
Marsha In addition, they donate their time. And if they didn't do that, Adam and I wouldn't be talking to you.
Adam No, we would not have jobs.
Marsha No, it wouldn't have happened.
Adam I would be digging ditches somewhere, but luckily I get to help produce a TV program about antiques.
Adam What keeps our appraisers on set for 10 plus hours if they're not getting paid?
Eric Silver I'm in the antique business. I love looking at stuff.
Adam Here's appraiser Eric.
Eric If it's $25, 25,000, it's great.
Adam And he's not alone in that sentiment.
Meredith Meuwly I became an appraiser because I love everything.
Adam This is Meredith, another appraiser on our show.
Meredith You're looking for the needle in the haystack. You're looking for that one story or that one person that comes up to you and is like, "I really want to know what this is."
Adam Our appraisers view hundreds of items each season. And while they're wired to find the magic in each item, regardless of value or rarity, there is a special excitement that comes with those once in a lifetime objects.
Adam It is the most important thing that I've seen.
Soundbite from the show Truly. Sorry, I'm all worked up.
Eric We see the most mundane kinds of things. And then it's always great when you hear one of the appraisers say, "I've been doing this for 25 years and I've never seen one."
Soundbite from the show We have never seen these cards before.
Soundbite from the show When you walked in with this, I just about died.
Soundbite from the show When we first saw you, my heart started going like this. Feel it, you can feel it right now.
Adam These extraordinary finds bring out big emotions and they also come with great opportunity. The reality is yes, appraisers are attracted to the profession for the love of the craft, but they also recognize the perks of coming face to face with a rare, valuable, and doing so on TV. With a discovery like that the owner might want to sell. If they do, there's a chance they'll reach out to the appraiser they worked with for help. A sale like that can be career defining. And in 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas a sculpture made it onto our show that had the place buzzing with excitement. Meredith was appraising for the show that day.
Soundbite from show [inaudible], interview next. Interview.
Meredith I remember it actually being filmed in front of me, except I had no idea what it was and what we were filming it about it.
Adam Eric was the one who actually appraised it.
Eric I looked at the line and I saw this sculpture approaching. I was excited, but not really because I see Rodin's at every roadshow virtually.
Adam Rodin, as in Auguste Rodin, the renowned French artist generally considered to be the founder of modern sculpture. At first Eric had some reservations about the piece and for good reason.
Eric At every single roadshow, they are fakes or reproductions. I even see the museum reproductions that you find in the gift shop.
Adam But upon closer inspection, Eric began to suspect he wasn't dealing with a gift shop figurine.
Eric I looked at it very carefully and the details were very strong. The casting was well done. The patina was wonderful. It had a very clear sharp signature.
Adam As Eric examined the statue, Meredith was still watching.
Meredith And the whispers through all of the appraisers, "What's that?" "What's that?" "What's that?" "Is it real?" "Is it real?" "What's he going to say?"
Adam I'm Adam, a producer with GBH's Antiques Roadshow and this is Detours. Today, a bronze in a haystack.
Adam It's no wonder the bronze got everyone talking that day in Texas. It's a head turning piece.
Eric It's one of these wonderfully romantic sculptures of this couple in this wonderful embrace. I'm happy that PBS could air the subject matter. I've had trouble with sculptures like this, or especially nude figures. But it's very personal, very dynamic.
Adam The figures are quite literally wrapped up in each other, frozen in a deep kiss. They're half sitting, half lying on a cluster of rocks and they seem completely unaware of the world around them. It's all very passionate and romantic. And there's a few theories on Rodin's source of inspiration.
Eric Some people feel that it was inspired by Dante's Inferno, the Italian Renaissance poet.
Adam I did some more digging on the subject and it turns out Rodin did not intend for Eternal Spring to be a standalone sculpture. It was 1880 and he had just been commissioned to sculpt what is now considered his Magnum Opus, The Gates of Hell. It's a 20 foot tall set of bronze doors featuring over 200 figures drawn from the underworld as Dante imagined it. The Eternal Spring couple was meant to be on those doors. As Eric suggested, they may depict a pair of lovers from Dante's work. That couple Francesca and Paolo were eternally damned for their adulterous relationship. But there's another theory that's more personal to Rodin himself.
Eric Some people say that it was inspired by Rodin's love of his mistress the sculptor Camille Claudel.
Adam One of Rodin's assistants for Gates of Hell was 19 year old Camille Claudel, a skilled sculptor in her own right. It's said that Rodin and Claudel fell in love immediately diving head first into a tumultus affair that spanned 12 years. Soon after they met, Rodin started sculpting Eternal Spring. Some people think the piece may have been a nod to the budding relationship, which wasn't really so different from Francesca and Paolo's tragic story. It's been said Claudel influenced Rodin's subject matter, but art historians have also claimed she influenced his technique. Claudel was especially good at capturing human emotion and her eye for detail inspired Rodin. You can see that in Eternal Spring.
Eric Now Rodin is considered part of the romantic movement and it was a movement away from depictions of historical figures and kings and depictions of ancient history or pictures of monarchs. He really concentrated on doing sculptures of people. Even if they had a historical context, that they were real people, they had real emotions and he was able to capture these very, very personal emotions of individuals.
Adam The faces of the couple are only partially visible, but you can see that realistic expression in their bodies. Rodin made hard bronze look supple, alive even. Up close you can see every dimple and fold in the skin and the shininess of the bronze adds to the drama and sensuality.
Soundbite from show Yes, ma'am.
Adam When the sculpture made it to Eric that day in Fort Worth, he was eager to learn how the owner ended up with it.
Eric Well, hi, where did you get this great sculpture?
Soundbite from show It was my father's great aunt's sculpture. And when she died it came to my grandmother. And when my grandmother died, it came to my father and he has since given it to me.
Eric And you know, the artist?
Soundbite from show Rodin. And [crosstalk 00:08:06]-
Eric [crosstalk ] Auguste Rodin.
Soundbite from show Auguste Rodin. I didn't want to mess up his name, but [crosstalk 00:08:11]...
Eric [crosstalk 00:08:11] Right. And you know the title?
Soundbite from show It's Eternal Spring.
Eric Right. Of course the original title is in French. Rodin, one of the greatest sculptors of the 19th, early 20th century, some consider him one of the best sculptors that ever did work, comparable to Michelangelo.
Adam Eric was excited, but he kept a cool collected demeanor as he pointed out details.
Eric You can see here, it's actually signed by Rodin. And then on the side here, it's signed F. Barbedienne Fondeur, Ferdinand Barbedienne, the foundry. And this was a leading Foundry in France at this time.
Adam A foundry is a workshop that specializes in casting metal. And the metal workers often collaborate with artists to produce various editions and sizes of an artist's original design. Rodin had over a thousand of his bronze sculptures produced at Barbedienne's foundry. But ones made during Rodin's lifetime are extremely rare. Was our guest's sculpture one of those editions?
Eric My feeling is that it is an authentic period one. Done somewhere between 1880 and 1917 and 1918 during his lifetime or very shortly thereafter.
Adam Technically you could call any cast, a reproduction. Rodin wasn't actually creating each version himself. But a cast produced in the artist's lifetime is considered an original since it was done with the artist's approval. And if it's an original, its value goes way up. With all this in mind, Eric shared his assessment with our guest.
Eric We don't know exactly how many were made, but this is a really very, very good one. And in June of this year, 2016, in London, one brought $450,000.
Show Guest Wow.
Eric An estimate on this would be in that 400 to $500,000 range.
Show Guest Wow. That is incredible.
Show Guest I suddenly want a beer.
Eric You want a beer.
Show Guest Suddenly [crosstalk] want a beer.
Eric [crosstalk] Nothings strong-
Show Guest [crosstalk] Suddenly want a beer.
Eric Nothing stronger?
Show Guest Nah.
Adam On our show this is a dream moment. A guest discovers that their family heirloom is worth life changing money. And an appraiser gets to see the work of a master up close. But as exciting as the moment was, Eric had to throw in one caveat. Although he had a good feeling about the sculpture's authenticity, it wasn't completely his call to make.
Eric There's so many issues with fakes and reproductions of Rodin's work that in order to sell one, you need a certification from a group called The Committee August Rodin. You must get a certificate from The Committee Auguste Rodin. There's a process. There's an application form that you fill out. One of the committee members occasionally comes to the United States to examine these pieces.
Show Guest Wow. Can I get that information from you, please, sir?
Adam As part of our show's protocol, appraisers are not allowed to contact guests after the appraisal, but if the guest wants to reach out, they are free to do that. Most guests don't, they learn their objects worth and they go home and put it back in its spot on the mantle or the coffee table. After all, most items are worth more sentimentally than they ever would be at auction.
Adam But some guests still want to learn more about what they have. It's common for owners to seek out second opinions or get their object appraised for a different reason, like if they're considering selling. Items can actually be assigned three values: the auction value, the retail value and the insurance value. Auction value estimates what the item might sell for at auction. That's what Eric shared on the show. Retail value is what it might sell for in an antique dealer's store. And insurance value estimates the cost of replacing the object if it's destroyed or stolen. That's especially important for rare and pricey collectibles. If our guest's sculpture turned out to be authentic and he was interested in selling it with guidance, any appraiser would tell you that's a phone call they want to get. And one lucky appraiser did.
Meredith On set I never got to see it in person. But then the next day, the family called me and said, "We were on Antiques Roadshow yesterday in Fort Worth and we think we might have a valuable sculpture." "Can you help us with an appraisal?"
Adam Yep. Our guest called Meredith for an insurance appraisal.
Meredith This wasn't my first rodeo. I had worked with several other Rodins, either through appraisals or through auctions.
Adam At the time Meredith worked for Heritage Auctions, an auction house based in Dallas, Texas. Given her expertise and the fact she was close to home, our guests looked to her for help. Sorry, Eric.
Meredith I knew the steps in the process and the first step was to get it authenticated because how can I appraise something if I don't know what it is.
Adam You don't have to get into specifics if you don't want to, but what does it cost individuals to get insurance appraisals from auction houses?
Meredith It's ethical for us to work on a hourly fee or a daily fee or a set fee. It is unethical for us to do a percentage of the value. Never, never trusted an appraiser that charges as a basis of what the fee is going to be tied to what the value of the object is.
Adam Meredith charged an hourly fee for this appraisal. Those can start at a couple hundred dollars an hour. For the Rodin, the process involved a few extra steps given the sheer number of fakes out there. Before she could come up with an accurate insurance appraisal, Meredith needed to know if the Rodin was authentic.
Meredith And since I'm not an expert, I go to the expert to say, "What is this," so that I can value it properly.
Adam The person for that job is Jerome Le Blay.
Jerome I'm Jerome Le Blay. I'm based in Paris. And I'm a renown expert, specialized in the work of Auguste Rodin. And I created some 15, 16 years ago an association which is called The Committee Rodin, The Rodin Committee to help collectors, dealers, museums, anyone who's interested in the work of Auguste Rodin to know more about the work of Auguste Rodin, but especially to help collectors to know if they have a genuine work of art or a reproduction. Because unfortunately there are a lot of fake and forgeries on the art market.
Adam Jerome Le Blay takes meticulous care in determining the authenticity of could be Rodins. And the process is tedious.
Meredith You have to have professional photographs and you have to measure it within a tenth of a centimeter and you have to do every angle and provide him with every information that you know about it. I had long talks with the family about, "How did you acquire it?" "Who acquired it?" "What can you remember with the stories?" I don't have any documentation. Documentation's always great, but it's not always there. We're trying to document the story of how this came into your possession and where it was along the way. And so we work with Monsieur Le Blay and give him all of this information and he's studiously looks and does his research.
Adam Once it was measured, photographed and discussed, the sculpture was then carefully shipped from Texas to New York for inspection. After the break, we hear Jerome Le Blay's verdict.
JeromeI usually go to the states three, four times a year to see auctioneers, to see museums, to see collectors. I see their work. Really one of the mandatory things that we want to do is to inspect the works, because on photos it's very difficult.
Adam Seeing the object in person is vital. Not only to inspect the markings, things like signature and dates, but to pick up on the intangible, the feel of the piece.
Jerome I've seen thousands of modern works and modern bronzes. It's under my skin.
Adam Jerome went to New York for his appointment with this sculpture to see if it gave him that unique Rodiny feel.
Jerome I knew immediately it was antique because it had the right shape, the right details, the right color, et cetera. And then after I looked at all the details, inside of the work, because there are many things that we need to check... but my first reaction was, "Yes, it's good." It took me 10 seconds.
Adam Ten seconds and he knew. This was the real deal. Next step, send the coveted letter of authentication to Meredith and our guest.
Meredith He presented his paper and wrote us a letter and says, "Absolutely correct, no problems," and gave us some information about the piece.
Adam With the new information, Meredith was able to complete her insurance appraisal. And she brought the good news back to a grateful owner.
Meredith And I said, "Okay, well what next?" "What can I do for you next?"
Adam Meredith had been hired to determine the objects value. And in most cases, that's all the owner wants to know, how much their item is worth. But what if the owner wants to sell? If they sell at auction, the appraiser gets a cut of the sale and so does the auction house. So having the Rodin at your auction would be a very big deal.
Meredith And they said, "Well, we're thinking about selling it." And I said, "That's great because Heritage can help you with that as well."
Adam Remember, Heritage is the auction house Meredith worked for at the time.
Meredith And so we presented a fantastic proposal for sale at the time, but I knew that they were working on getting competitive offers. And that makes sense because I would advise people to do that. It's always good to have a couple of different offers and see what other people are saying and what they can do for you.
Adam Owners of high valued items will usually meet with different appraisers and auction houses and shop around for the best deal. Selling at auction can be risky, but for rare works of art like Eternal Spring it's a risk worth considering. Best case scenario for the seller, competing bidders will try to outbid one another, driving up the price and maximizing the object's value. And with so much potential, our guests had a lot to take into account, like where to sell and when. Heritage offered to put it up for sale in their May auction in Dallas. And Sotheby's offered to sell in London in March.
Meredith And I think the family really just liked that March sale and to get it out and to get there. They also liked the idea of selling it in London. Just being a European artist, they thought the London market might be better for it. And that's hard to say that could go either way. I think it's six one way, half a dozen another. But they ended up selling and consigning the piece to the Sotheby's London sale on March in 2017. Sotheby's had estimated it to be 250 to 350,000 pounds. And it sold for just about 297,000 pounds.
Adam That comes to about 364,000 US dollars. A little less than Eric's original appraisal.
Adam There's no way around it. This was bittersweet. It was a win for the owner, but a loss for our appraisers. Meredith did the legwork for the authentication process. And Eric arguably discovered the sculpture that day on set, but neither got the sale. It was the Rodin that got away.
Meredith Nothing is worse than getting the call and saying, "Can you have your competitor come pick it up tomorrow from your office," and wave it goodbye. It's a sad day. But that's the auction business.
Eric I would've liked him to call me and say, "Oh, Eric, thanks, that's great." "Do you have a client [inaudible], can we do it?" And I would say, "Wonderful [crosstalk 00:20:44]..."
Adam [crosstalk 00:20:44] But despite losing out on the sale of a lifetime, both appraisers were good sports about it.
Meredith You win some, you lose some, but I know that the family was happy and that's what matters. And I got to live with the sculpture in my office that was a real Rodin for a couple months.
Adam What did our appraisers get when they went through all the trouble of coming to Roadshow? They didn't get the sale, but in a way they did get the Rodin.
Marsha This thing is rare.
Marsha That's a really rare object. And you could knock on doors forever and never see it. It walked right in our door.
Adam It was, oh, it's a good day.
Marsha A good day.
Adam Maybe not for Eric and Meredith, but for us.
Marsha They had the chance to touch the Rodin.
Adam Yeah, they did. They got to see the Rodin... not a priceless, it's a very priced work of art that we probably won't see again on our show for another 20 years.
Marsha Hey I do wonder if they cried though when they touched it.
Adam Yeah. I wonder.
Adam Detours is a production of GBH in Boston and PRX. This episode was written and produced by Isabel Hibbert. Our editor is Galen Beebe. Our senior producer and sound designer is Ian Coss. Jocelyn Gonzales is the director of PRX productions. Devin Maverick Robins is the managing producer of podcasts for GBH, and Marsha is the executive producer of Detours. I'm your host and co-executive producer Adam. Our theme music is Once in a Century Storm by Will Dailey from the album National Throat. Thank you all for listening. Have a good one.