MADISON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — It was lost back in the 1930s, but a sculpture by Auguste Rodin has been found in Madison, New Jersey.
As CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock reported, it was a surprising discovery for people who live in the town.
The bust of Napoleon sculpted out of Marble sits in the corner of the Hartley Dodge Memorial Building, and it has been there for decades.
When asked if she had noticed it before, Eileen Richards of Madison, New Jersey said, “Quite frankly, no, we didn’t.”
”We always gave tours saying, ‘We think that’s Rodin, but we’re not sure,’ and then we’d move on,” said Madison Borough Mayor Bob Conley.
Such is not the case anymore. The piece of art is now the talk of the town, thanks to a tenacious woman named Mallory Mortillaro.
“You felt like you kind of walked into some kind of magical mystery story,” she said.
Three years ago, the Hartley Dodge Foundation – tasked with maintaining the architectural and historical integrity of the building – hired Mortillaro to help catalog their photo collection.
“They also said: ‘You know, we also have some other artwork in there. If you want to take a look, you’re welcome to see if there is something worth researching,’” Mortillaro said.
And there sure was something worth researching. Foundation President Nicolas W. Platt explained what happened in December 2014.
“On a cold rainy afternoon, Mallory was walking around the building and she looked at this bust,” Platt said. “She was feeling along the base trying to figure out what the provenance of this marble bust was, and her fingers ran across something chiseled.”
She turned on her flashlight, and Rodin’s signature came into view.
“I thought if this was a real Rodin, surely somebody would have known and done something about it,” Mortillaro said.
“There was no paperwork; no record that it had entered the building — and let alone been sitting here in the corner for 85 years,” Platt said.
There was a lot of skepticism at first, but then it all came together.
Research revealed that the circa 1908 statue sat in the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1915 to 1929. Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge bought it in 1934 and shipped it to Madison, New Jersey along with other masterpieces.
To verify that the Rodin was the real McCoy, Mortillaro reached out to art experts around the world. A man representing the Musée Rodin in France came running.
“Once we found out, we knew we had to sit on that information because of the insurance and security,” Platt said.
But Mortillaro said now, they can finally tell the world.
“It’s been kind of that story you tell really close family and friends with that caveat of, ‘Please don’t tell anybody,’” she said. “But we have a Rodin.”
The sculpture is valued at between $4 million and $12 million. The foundation has no plans to sell.
Instead, it will go on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the end of the month.
Before then, the public is invited to a formal viewing the week of Oct. 21.