Treasures at Shaw's Corner

The Rodin bust at Shaw's Corner

The National Trust looks after a treasure chest of history. From artistic masterpieces and vast tapestries to precious personal possessions, the range and breadth of the collections is astonishing. A new book – 125 Treasures from the Collections of the National Trust – shares the stories behind some of these remarkable objects. Discover more about the bronze bust of Shaw, created by sculptor Auguste Rodin which features in the book.

In 1906 the renowned French sculptor Auguste Rodin was commissioned to make a bust of the George Bernard Shaw by Shaw’s wife Charlotte. Charlotte persuaded Rodin to take tea with her and her husband at their London home, where the possibility of commissioning a bust was discussed. Two versions were ordered, one in bronze and one in marble. The bronze bust was kept in the study of Shaw’s London flat, before being transferred to the Shaw house, Shaw’s Corner in Hertfordshire, in 1945, after the property was gifted to the National Trust. The marble bust was often loaned out to exhibitions before being donated to Hugh Lane, who displayed it in his Dublin City Gallery, where it can be viewed today. 

August Rodin, Bust of George Bernard Shaw, 1906 / Shaw's Corner NT 1274943
August Rodin, Bust of George Bernard Shaw, 1906
August Rodin, Bust of George Bernard Shaw, 1906 / Shaw's Corner NT 1274943

Shaw had great respect bordering on veneration for Rodin’s skill as a sculptor, considering him to be a modern-day Michelangelo. After donating his home to the National Trust, he joked that Rodin’s bust would be remembered 1,000 years hence, while its subject would be ‘otherwise unknown’. The bronze sculpture accurately depicts Shaw’s appearance, while also suggesting the vitality of his presence.

" If the bust’s nose was too long, he sliced a bit out of it, and jammed the tip of it up to close the gap, with no more emotion or affectation than a glazier putting in a window pane. If the ear was in the wrong place, he cut it off and slapped it into its right place, excusing these ruthless mutilations to my wife by remarking that it was shorter than to make a new ear. Yet a succession of miracles took place as he worked… It was a process for the embryologist to study, not the aesthete. Rodin’s hand worked, not as a sculptor’s hand works, but as the Life Force works."
- George Bernard Shaw on Rodin's sculpting technique

The commission of Shaw’s bust was the start of an important friendship between the two men, which lasted until Rodin’s death in 1917.

You can view the bronze bust of Shaw by taking a peek through the window into the drawing room, where Shaw stands proudly, looking out over the garden of his beloved home. 

125 Treasures

Delve into the stories behind the remarkable objects that make up our new book.