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Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755–1828). George Washington, 1796. Oil on canvas, 96 1/4 × 60 1/4 in. (244.5 × 153 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Dick S. Ramsay Fund and Museum Purchase Fund, 45.179.

When Artists Make Multiples, Which One is “Real”?

Explore several artworks in the Brooklyn Museum collection and learn why they look just like other works you may have seen.

Asked and answered: Frequent Art Questions is a monthly series that addresses frequently asked questions from Brooklyn Museum visitors about art and museum practices. 

 

Have you ever visited a museum and thought, ‘I’ve seen that artwork somewhere else’? Are they copies? Knock-offs? How do you know which one is the “original”? Let’s take a look at a few examples.


Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755–1828). George Washington, 1796. Oil on canvas, 96 1/4 × 60 1/4 in. (244.5 × 153 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Dick S. Ramsay Fund and Museum Purchase Fund, 45.179.

The portrait of George Washington that is printed on the one-dollar bill is based on a sketch by American artist Gilbert Stuart, known as the Athenaeum Portrait. Stuart used his sketch to inform four “Lansdowne”-type portraits, one of which (above) is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum today.

The name Lansdowne refers to British Prime Minister William Petty, Lord Shelburne, the first Marquis of Lansdowne, who received the first of these portraits as a gift for his role in granting independence to the United States. That painting is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

While Stuart was working on the painting for the Marquis of Lansdowne, William Kerin Constable visited the artist’s studio to sit for his own portrait. When Constable saw the portrait of Washington in progress, he was so impressed that he commissioned one for himself, and Stuart began working on a copy of his own painting right away. Constable’s version of the Washington painting was passed down through his family until it was ultimately acquired by the Brooklyn Museum.

The other two Lansdowne-style portraits are in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia and in the White House.


Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Pierre de Wiessant, Monumental (Pierre de Wissant, monumental), 1887; cast 1979. Bronze, 84 5/8 × 46 × 39 in. (214.9 × 116.8 × 99.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Gift of Iris and B. Gerald Cantor, 84.243.


Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Eustache de Saint-Pierre, Monumental (Eustache de Saint-Pierre, monumental), circa 1886–87. Bronze, 85 × 30 × 48 in. (215.9 × 76.2 × 121.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Gift of Iris and B. Gerald Cantor, 87.106.2.


Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Andrieu d'Andres, Monumental (Andrieu d'Andres, monumental), 1888; cast 1983. Bronze, 78 3/8 × 50 × 33 1/2 in. (199.1 × 127 × 85.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Gift of Iris and B. Gerald Cantor, 87.106.3.

The Brooklyn Museum is also home to three figures from French artist Auguste Rodin’s final set of six that make up the Monument to the Burghers of Calais. You may have seen these same figures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in DC, the Musée Rodin in Paris, the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, or, of course, the French city of Calais. In fact, there are twelve casts of the complete set of six figures on one base, and multiple casts of individual figures like those currently standing in the Brooklyn Museum’s lobby.

Which one is the original? Well, the complete monument installed in Calais was the first cast to be made, but all the sculptures were cast from the same models. Rodin himself, like many nineteenth-century European and American artists, sculpted models in plaster and clay. Then, in a process known as sand casting, bronze experts at a foundry would press those models into sand to create a void that could be used as a mold for molten bronze.

Rodin left his molds to the people of France upon his death; they are now at the Musée Rodin. Under the right circumstances, a new cast of one of Rodin’s sculptures could be made today. The French government even ruled that any cast made from one of Rodin’s own models—even a century or more after his death—would still be considered the artist’s own work.


Chauncey Bradley Ives (American, 1812–1894). Pandora, 1871. Marble, 58 × 17 × 16 3/4 in. (147.3 × 43.2 × 42.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Bequest of Caroline H. Polhemus, 06.146.

Marble sculptures were a popular “souvenir” for wealthy nineteenth-century Americans taking a grand tour of Europe. The tourists would visit the studios of American sculptors working in Italy, where examples of the artists’ work would be on display like a menu, and order sculptures to be delivered to their homes back in the United States months later. Figures from Greco-Roman stories, such as Pandora, were popular subjects. 

For each commission, Chauncey Bradley Ives and his contemporaries sculpted a form in plaster and then used a tool called a pointing machine to faithfully transcribe it into marble. Today, Ives’s sculptures of Pandora can be found in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Detroit Institute of Arts (to name a few).


KAWS (American, born 1974). Along the Way, 2013. Wood, 216 × 176 × 120 in. (548.6 × 447 × 304.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum; Gift in honor of Arnold Lehman, 2015.11a-b. © KAWS

Let’s bring this into the present day.

You may be familiar with Brooklyn-based artist KAWS. He started out as a street artist and animator; then, in 1999, KAWS was approached by Japanese toy and streetwear brand Bounty Hunter to design a vinyl toy. The first edition of five hundred COMPANION figures sold out quickly and cemented KAWS’s place in the public eye. 

A 2021 KAWS exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum included many examples of toys and figurines that he has designed over the years, and a lucky few thousand collectors were able to purchase special editions. A colossal version of Along the Way, featuring a pair of COMPANION figures, stands in our lobby near Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. It’s the first of several identical sculptures that have been exhibited around the world, carrying the tradition of “multiples” into the twenty-first century.

 

Elizabeth Treptow is a Digital Content Producer at the Brooklyn Museum.