Auguste de Niederhäusern, dit Rodo
Les Initiés (The Initiates), 1898

  • Auguste de Niederhäusern, dit Rodo (Vevey, 1863 - Munich, 1913)
  • Les Initiés (The Initiates), 1898
  • Painted plaster, 59,5 x 72,5 x 39 cm
  • Gift of Henri-Auguste Widmer, 1931
  • Inv. 153
  • © Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne

Auguste de Niederhaüsern studied industrial art and fine art in Geneva before moving to Paris in 1886, where he joined the studios of the sculptors Henri Chapu and later Alexandre Falguière. He wanted to study with Auguste Rodin, but Rodin did not take on pupils, so he took up a position in his studio as a sculptor’s assistant instead. As early as 1892, he worked closely with Rodin, learning from him and seeking inspiration in his genius. He admired Rodin deeply and began showing his work with the pseudonym Rodo in homage, keen to claim creative kinship with the great artist.

For Rodo, Rodin was the master who set him free from the realist tradition, letting him express himself boldly and lyrically. The Initiates bear the stamp of Rodin’s influence in the generosity of the figures, the idea of the non finito leaving parts unfinished, and the bodies emerging from the material itself. The sculpture radiates thwarted power and a sense of sadness that “only enters us so wholly because it is very contained, very natural, without poses or attitudes”, in the words of the contemporary art critic Gaspard Valette.

Rodo moved in Symbolist circles in Paris and took part in the movement’s most significant events, including the Salons de la Rose+Croix. The title Les Initiés may have been inspired by the Paris-based hermeticist periodical L’Initiation (launched in 1888) or by Édouard Schuré’s book Les grands initiés (1889). Either way, the title suggests that the nude couple sheltering under a rocky overhang are the keepers of some primitive secret or have been initiated into occult practices, as highlighted by the Ancient Greek word carved into the plaster, which means “initiation into the precepts of a religion”.


Catherine Lepdor, L’artiste à l’œuvre. Etudes et esquisses de la collection, exhibition journal, Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, 2017, section 7.

Claude Lapaire, Auguste de Niederhäusern-Rodo 1863-1913 : un sculpteur entre la Suisse et Paris. Catalogue raisonné, Bern, Benteli, Zurich, Institut suisse pour l’étude de l’art, 2001: 68-72, n. 88.