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Court to decide if Rodin casts are fakes

What does he think of it all? Rodin's The Thinker (Le Penseur) at the Musée Rodin in Paris AFP/Joel Saget

A Paris court is to judge whether bronzes cast from plaster models made by French 19th-century art giant Auguste Rodin are fakes and their sale by an Italian-based company fraud.

The trial started in Paris on Wednesday of Gary Snell, the American boss of the Gruppo Mondiale company, and three other defendants accused of counterfeit and fraud because they cast and sold bronzes from the plasters for an estimated 60 million euros.

Rodin left his entire studio and the right to produce casts to the French state and they make up the basis of the collection of Paris's Musée Rodin.

But some of the plasters were sold by the foundry to Gruppo Mondiale, which is believed to have cast some 1,700 bronzes of 52 Rodin works, including famous pieces such as The Kiss, The Thinker and The Hand of God.

Some have been exhibited as originals in Venice, Geneva and Toronto.

Posthumous casts or fakes?

Snell and his fellow defendants argue that Rodin's work is now in the public domain and that the museum was notified of the "posthumous casts".

Prosecutors argue that they are an offence against "national and universal heritage" and constitute "misleading advertising".

They also cite an expert who claims that excessive casting from a plaster can damage the original.

The case has dragged on since 2001.

A Paris court ruled itself incompetent to handle it in November 2014 on the grounds that it could not be shown that the sculptures had been made, exhibited or sold on French territory.

Prosecutors appealed against that decision.