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August 20, 2015

Rodin Bust Stolen from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen

By Lynda Albertson

On July 16, 2015 two men posing as tourists brazenly walked in to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen and stole a bronze bust  from the Dahlerup Wing during broad daylight. Law enforcement authorities, announcing the theft today, have only today released details on the theft to the public, which at first blush, seems to indicate that the two suspects worked in a coordinated fashion.

Police surveillance footage recorded two men, approximately 30 to 40 years of age and of average build, between 170-175cm tall, entering and exiting the gallery where the artwork was on display, leaving the premises with the bust concealed first in a plastic bag and then inside a second bag, before calmly strolling out of the museum. The theft took just twelve minutes to execute and went undetected by not only patrons but also the museum’s security personnel.

Copenhagen daily Politiken spoke with inspector Ove Randrup of Copenhagen police's robbery and theft unit who advised them that surveillance camera footage shows that the men had visited the museum one week earlier, disconnecting the bust's alarm and unfastening the sculpture from its base.

The stolen artwork, ‘The Man with the Broken Nose’ was created by François Auguste René Rodin and is one of several artworks created by the artist depicting this subject. Estimates of the value of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum bust have been quoted at two million krone ($300,000) by Danish news agencies. 

It is believed that Rodin's subject for the original bust was an elderly workman named “Bibi” from the Saint-Marcel district of Paris. In creating the original clay sculpture, from which the Danish copy was modelled, Rodin chose to emphasize certain features – the broken nose, the style of the beard, and the subject's deep facial lines.  Some believe his attempt was created as a parallel between this workman’s chiseled and work-weary face and Michelangelo’s during his later years.

The prototype for the stolen bust was created in clay early in Rodin’s career, between 1862 and 1863, while the sculptor worked as an apprentice to more conventional sculptors. Working on the original piece for more than a year he referred to the work as "the first good piece of modelling I ever did."

A marble example of the clay original can be found at the Musée Rodin in Paris.

Due to its popularity, Rodin made many casts of “The Man with the Broken Nose. The version  at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum has been in the Danish collection for 95 years.

As many as 15 versions of this sculpture were on display together at a previous exhibition at the Fogg Museum at Harvard, many of which are currently held in private collections.  A video, showing a close-up of the stolen bronze in situ in the Rodin Gallery of the the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum is attached below and can be seen in high resolution at the 3.24 minute mark.   

Over the years works by Auguste Rodin have been popular with all manner of art thieves. The bronze sculpture The Burghers of Calais was found abandoned on a mountainside by its Nazi caretakers en route to Baden.  In  1991 ’Young Girl With Serpent' was stolen from a Beverly Hills couple and was recovered earlier this year.  In 2003 the work "The Hand of God" disappeared from the exhibition hall at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and in 2011 'Naked Balzac with Folded Arms' was stolen from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem during extensive renovations.

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek was founded by the brewer Carl Jacobsen (1842-1914) and is one of Copenhagen’s most prominent art museums. It was named after Jacobson’s brewery with the addition of "Glyptotek", meaning collection of sculpture. The museum has a comprehensive collection of antique sculpture from the ancient cultures around the Mediterranean, as well as works by Rodin, Degas and other French 19th Century artists. The museum has 35 works by Rodin, in bronze, marble and plaster.

The Danish Museum also holds the largest Etruscan collection outside Italy including antiquities clearly looted in origin including an Etruscan calesse, or two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, excavated near Fara in Sabina, just north of Rome. At the core of the dispute between Italy and the Denmark museum are Etruscan and Greco-Roman objects Italian authorities say were purchased from Bob Hecht and Giacomo Medici.