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A garden of sculptures beckons you into the Musée Bourdelle, an infrequently visited gem at 18 rue Antoine Bourdelle, set amidst brick houses on a quiet street in Montparnasse. Émile Antoine Bourdelle was born on October 30,1861 in Montauban, also the birthplace of the painter, Ingres. He moved to Paris at the age of 23 and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. So talented was Bourdelle that in quick succession he became a pupil of Auguste Rodin’s, his assistant, then a teacher in his studio. Many future, well known artists, like Alberto Giacometti, became Bourdelle’s students and were influenced by his eclectic style which combined naturalism, monumentality and geometry with shades of Romanticism.
The museum is a blend as varied and interesting as the man himself. I visited mid-week and found the place almost deserted except for a few guards and cleaning personnel. Inside the modernist grand hall you will find majestic sculptures randomly placed under the overhead skylights. In another section there’s a striking display of Beethoven busts, a subject matter that obsessively occupied Bourdelle until his death in 1929. His old studio is lit by bright northern light drawing attention to the dust that has settled on the half finished sculptures scattered around the room and the damp smell of the wooden parquet floor. The faded gray plaster will give you a feeling that Bourdelle just stepped outside for a moment and will be right back. There is also a basement in which you can see studies for some of his greatest works.
Across the garden you will find Bourdelle’s apartment. Rarely are we allowed to intrude on so private a place. At first glance you might be struck by its sombre, atonal palette. His bed and some personal belongings are on view, matter-of-factly set with complete disregard for any kind of design ethic, evocatively uninspiring, yet intimate. I imagine Bourdelle didn’t spend very much time there, except to sleep.
The museum was officially opened in 1949. It is open Thursday – Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some of Antoine Bourdelle’s sculptures can also be seen at the Musée d’Orsay.
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