French association of Bronze-founders establish code of ethics

An attempt to combat the damage being caused by forgeries and unauthorised castings


The market for sculpture casts has been hit recently by a number of scandals involving forgeries, unauthorised castings, and difficulties in interpreting and applying the legislation governing artistic property (see The Art Newspaper No. 14, January 1992, pp.1-2 and No. 17, April 1992 p.1). This has led the bronze-founders belonging to the Syndicat général des fondeurs de France (General Association of French Founders) to draw up and publish a code of ethics, with the support of the Syndicat des sculpteurs (Association of Sculptors), the Chambre nationale des commissaires-priseurs (National Chamber of Auctioneers), and the Comité des galeries d’art (Committee of Art Galleries).

The principal measures as set out in the text signed by these four organisations on 18 November 1993 are as follows:

1. The following marks should be “indelible and easily legible” on “all works of art produced by founding”, whatever metal alloy is used: the sculptor’s signature (and, if desired, the date the work was produced), the number of the proof (see below), the founder’s mark or signature and the year of casting (in four figures). These details should be marked deep into the metal.

2. There are to be three classifications for “all works of art produced by founding”: original, multiple, or unique cast. The choice of classification “is made by the artist”, “must be determined before the first piece is made”, and is irrevocable. The code states that all works of art rejected by the artist must be destroyed by the founder (who must supply proof if the work was not destroyed in the artist’s presence).

These different classifications are defined as follows:

• Original: following regulations already in force, the code allows no more than twelve copies to be made, including any different alloys and patinas used (the question of size is not mentioned).

The code standardises the method of numbering: the four artist’s proofs should be marked EA (“épreuve d’artiste”) followed by a number in roman numerals (i.e. the number of the proof and the number of proofs in total, i.e. EA I/IV, EA I/V). It stipulates that “where a piece is to serve as a model” it should form part of the series of four artist’s proofs and should be marked and numbered like these (for example I/IV); furthermore it should bear the mark “modèle” with, where applicable, the technique used. The eight remaining originals should be numbered in Arabic numerals (the number of the piece and the number of pieces). “Founders should not use any other marks, such as O, more than one O, HC, etc.”

• Multiple. The creation of this category is the code’s main innovation. If the artist chooses “multiple” as the mode of classification this precludes the simultaneous production of originals or artist’s proofs of the same work (artist’s proofs or multiples are also forbidden for unique casts).

The text does not prescribe limits to the number of castings (the examples of numbering given in the text are actually quite high, as castings of three hundred are mentioned).

For multiples the code stipulates that numbering should begin with the original piece (i.e. the first of the series, as the production of originals is not permitted), and that the number of multiples decided on by the artist should be given from the start (1/100). The production of additional multiples is forbidden, even where a different alloy or colour is used.

The code does not specify whether Roman or Arabic numerals are to be used for numbering. Even if Roman numerals are used there is little risk of confusion with the four artist’s proofs as the latter must bear the mark “EA”.

• Unique cast. This is “a work of which a single copy is cast”. It should be marked “PU” (“pièce unique”), with the additional mark “cire directe” where appropriate. Artist’s proofs and multiples are not permitted (although the code does not spell it out, the definition itself implies that the production of originals other than artist’s proofs is also forbidden).

Obviously, only works of art made from now on will benefit from these measures. It remains to be seen whether judges will base their decisions on this code, perhaps to arrive at a better definition of the concept of works of art, particularly with regard to the concept of multiples.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Bronze-founders write code of ethics'